Smartphone Apps for Skin Cancer Risk Aren't Reliable, Study Finds

They could delay people seeking medical advice on possible melanoma lesions, researchers say

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 16 (HealthDay News) -- The reliability of smartphone applications to assess the risk of melanoma skin cancer is highly variable, and three of four apps incorrectly classified 30 percent or more of melanomas as not being a cause for concern, a new study finds.

Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer.

The four apps examined in the study evaluate photographs of skin lesions and provide users with feedback on the likelihood of skin cancer. The researchers used 188 images of skin lesions (60 were melanoma and 128 were benign) to test the apps' sensitivity, specificity and predictive values.

Sensitivity (the number of lesions correctly identified as being melanoma) of the four apps ranged from about 7 percent to 98 percent. The app with the highest sensitivity was one that sent the image of the skin lesion directly to a dermatologist for analysis.

Specificity (the number of lesions correctly identified as not being melanoma) ranged from about 30 percent to 94 percent. Positive predictive value (the likelihood that a lesion identified as melanoma actually is the disease) ranged from about 33 percent to 42 percent. Negative predictive value (the likelihood that a lesion identified as melanoma is not the disease) ranged from about 65 percent to 97 percent.

The study was published online Jan. 16 in the journal JAMA Dermatology.

These apps are not subject to government regulation. Relying on them and not seeking medical advice can delay the diagnosis of melanoma and potentially harm users, study author Joel Wolf and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said in a school news release.

"Physicians must be aware of these applications because the use of medical applications seems to be increasing over time," they concluded. "The dermatologist should be aware of those relevant to our field to aid us in protecting and educating our patients."

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about melanoma and other skin cancers.

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