Don't Trust Mobile Apps To Detect Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is one of the most common causes of death in Australia. Early detection is important, but a new research study confirms that smartphone apps which photograph your skin and attempt to identify melanomas do a very poor job.

Sunscreen picture from Shutterstock

The study, published in JAMA Dermatology, examined the performance of four smartphone apps in assessing 188 images of skin lesions. 128 of the inages were benign, and 60 were melanomas. The study doesn't name the applications directly, but both iOS and Android apps were examined.

Performance of the four apps was highly variable (some rely on automated analysis, others send the image to a dermatologist for analysis), but even the best performing app only had a positive predictive value of 42.1 per cent. Three out of the four apps incorrectly classified 30 per cent or more melanomas as benign and not risky.

The lesson is clear: get any skin abnormality that concerns you checked by a doctor. This is not a case for Dr iPhone. As the study points out: "Reliance on these applications, which are not subject to regulatory oversight, in lieu of medical consultation can delay the diagnosis of melanoma and harm users."

Diagnostic Inaccuracy of Smartphone Applications for Melanoma Detection [JAMA Dermatology]


    An app diagnosing based on photos from a smart phone, really. How many lighting issues alone can you see affecting the results. Every time I see a new app come out that allows people to self diagnose I shudder. You can sue a doctor if they get it wrong. Good luck to suing an app maker based somewhere outside of Australia. Your docotor, specialist whatever first then if your really concerned a 2nd and in rare cases 3rd opinion.

    This definitely needed to be said. But the fact that it needed to be said is pretty sad, imho. If you trust an app to tell you whether or not you have cancer, then you deserve to... well, you don't deserve to get cancer, but you deserve to have something bad happen. Go to your room!

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