Are skin cancer apps harmful?

Jan 29, 2013 No Comments by

Earlier this month we discussed the growing role technology plays in the fight against skin cancer. In fact, we’ve created a pin board, highlighting some of our favorite apps.

Now, in light of a recent study published by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, there is a growing concern for the accuracy of the apps that are meant to detect skin cancer. Four smartphone apps were evaluated on their ability to determine whether moles have morphed into cancerous melanomas. The results ranged from 98.1% accuracy to only 6.8%. If consumers are relying on their smart phone alone to diagnose their health issues, this inaccuracy poses a big problem.

The Wall Street Journal reports, “Health-app makers include disclaimers warning patients that they don’t mean to diagnose anything. ‘We’re not saying this replaces a practitioner,’ said Avi Lasarow, co-founder of the Mole Detective app, which uses algorithms to gauge mole risk but plans to add a physician-referral feature. ‘We’re saying, this is a way you can look to determine whether you might have a problem,’ he said.”

Most consumer health apps haven’t yet been required to demonstrate their safety and efficacy through the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA said in a statement that the UPMC study results “reinforce the importance of consumers talking with a health care professional before making any medical decisions” because of the seriousness of melanoma, and that addressing mobile apps is a top priority at the agency.

What do you think, are skin cancer detecting apps helpful or harmful?

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