Skin Cancer: There Is NOT An App For That - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on January 22, 2013

Skin Cancer: There Is NOT An App For That

In so many ways, smartphone apps have changed our world. With a couple of taps, you can start your car, record a TV program, sling some birds and knock things down or find directions to get from here to there.
And the exciting thing is that we’re just at the dawn of app culture – thrilling new capabilities are being invented just about every day, and it seems like the phrase “there’s an app for that” could apply to just about anything.

But not everything, and not yet.

A new study shows that smartphone applications that are designed to automatically detect skin cancer are nowhere near accurate enough. A study done at the University of Missouri showed that the smartphone apps misdiagnosed more than half of all malignant growths. Obviously, that’s unacceptable, and more than a little dangerous.

And it’s just as bad (but not as dangerous) on the other side of the equation – benign lesions were misdiagnosed as being cancerous more than half the time. That can cause panic and despair for people who are actually healthy.

Several of the apps are available for under five dollars, so it’s tempting to think you’re going to get some good, cheap information about your health. Then again, you get what you pay for.

The seemingly obvious comparison of these new breed of cancer-detecting apps is with home pregnancy tests – a chance to get some knowledge and decide whether it’s worth seeing a doctor. However, that is simply a bad comparison. For starters, the supposedly cancer-detecting apps are not required to seek Food and Drug Administration approval, so they are not nearly as regulated as those pregnancy tests. And the inaccuracy of the tests means that there’s no rush to be an early adopter of the still very fledgling technology.

The best thing you can say about these apps is that they are making cancer detection more top-of-mind, particularly for a cancer that too many people tend to downplay. But it’s simply way too soon for you to rely on it, and it could cause some real issues.

The future of consumer-focused medical technology is very exciting, and some day we may be able to wave our smartphone over our bodies and get good, reliable diagnoses.

Just not yet.

For more information about Crozer-Keystone Health System Cancer Services, visit You can also call 1-866-695-HOPE (4673) to request an appointment with a physician who cares for cancer patients.

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