Melanoma Screening Apps Miss Cancer 30 Percent of the Time

1-20-2013 2-30-18 PM

A study in JAMA Dermatology puts four cancer screening apps to the test. Diagnostic accuracy was measured by presenting images of 60 known positive melanoma samples interspersed among 128 benign moles.

Three of the applications use an algorithm to evaluate the border and appearance of the mole. The study concluded that these apps incorrectly classified at least 30 percent of known melanomas as “not concerning.” This conclusion, in and of itself, is concerning. Use of these apps in lieu of a medical evaluation can delay the diagnosis of melanoma and harm users.

The fourth app, which fared much better in testing, did not attempt to evaluate the mole through an algorithm. Instead, it sent the image to a board-certified dermatologist for evaluation. The image was then reviewed with results returned within 24 hours. This app earned a 98 percent accuracy rating.

Smartphone apps marketed to non-clinicians are still unregulated and unaccountable for the clinical information they present to users. However, as the study shows, properly designed health apps that incorporate the necessary clinical expertise hold potential to facilitate earlier diagnosis of melanoma cases.

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