Melanoma Detection Apps Best for Education and Information, Not Diagnosis
The idea of using smartphone apps to detect melanoma is appealing, and there are many for consumers to choose from. However, there is little evidence of clinical- or research-based input when these apps are developed; therefore, more research is needed to evaluate their content, validity and utility to support detection of melanoma.
A recent study published in British Journal of Dermatology identified nearly 40 apps for melanoma detection. The authors reviewed and evaluated the content of the apps with respect to general information about melanoma and/or skin cancer, UVR and sun exposure preventive advice, skin self-examination strategies, assessment of current and future melanoma risk, personal or expert image analysis to classify lesions, and lesion monitoring over time. One-third of these apps provided information only. A similar number enabled patients to capture and store images of their skin lesions either for review by a dermatologist or for self-monitoring to identify change, an important predictor of melanoma. Four apps provided a risk assessment to patients about the probability that a lesion was malignant or benign, and only one app incorporated a validated risk model giving individuals information about their future risk of melanoma. None of the apps appeared to have been validated for diagnostic accuracy or utility using established research methods. There was limited information about whether the apps were developed with clinician involvement, and some apps had not been updated for more than 3 years.
Based on this review, while apps may have potential to improve patient and nonspecialist clinician assessment and patient–clinician communication about potential skin cancer, the advice could be inaccurate or misleading. The authors concluded that without a more explicit research base, clinicians should be cautious about supporting the use of such apps to detect melanoma earlier, although they may choose to use apps for education and/or information alone.
By: Wendy Meltzer, MPH
Adapted from the original article.
[image by Gonzalo Baeza]