Is Your Cellphone More Accurate Than A Dermatologist?

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skin cancer

Recent Blog Entries From Dr. Dave Hnida


Written by Dr. Dave Hnida, CBS4 Medical EditorDon’t you hate finding some bump or mole on your skin and wondering whether it’s something you should get checked out?

Well, these days … there’s an app for that. In fact dozens of apps that claim they can help you find out whether that thing growing on your leg is cancerous or benign.

All the way from Dr. Mole to The Mole Detective, there are skin apps that tell you to snap a picture of that odd growth and get a diagnosis.

And this week a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association-Dermatology decided to download a few and take them for an accuracy ride.

Researchers looked at four apps in particular but won’t identify which ones they studied, so I can’t say the ones I just named above were on the exam list.

But all four claim that they NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR A DOCTOR — but you know how the real world works. Sometimes we do SUBSTITUTE FOR A DOCTOR via an app, the web, friends who play a doctor on TV, and so forth.

Prices of the apps ranged from free to just about $5. Three of the apps used an algorithm, or formula, to give you an idea of whether the mole you want analyzed is in the danger zone.

One of the four says they use a real dermatologist to actually look at your pic, and render an opinion. (Within a few hours.)

Researchers sent in 178 pics of skin growths and moles. Of that number, 118 were known to be benign, and 60 were melanomas — the most dangerous type of skin cancer.

So what was the diagnosis of accuracy by these apps?

Not so hot.

The dermatologist one (and no one knows who this mysterious skin doctor behind the curtain is) did the best. He/She only missed one of the melanomas, calling it benign.

The others missed about 18 out of the 60 — a potentially deadly percentage.

Also, those apps called almost half of the benign pictures as being cancerous.

Uh-oh.

Not my kind of reassurance.

So here’s the advice — you have something growing on your skin, or changing in some way? Go. To. The. Doctor.

These apps may give you piece of mind, or scare the heck out of you. But even as they say: they are  NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR A DOCTOR.

Angry Birds won’t hurt you. A missed skin cancer might.

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