According to a study, researchers found successful apps for the diagnosis of skin cancer to market, there is a concern that a lack of testing is risking public safety. The research, outlined at the British Association of Dermatologists' Annual Meeting in Edinburgh, reviewed the medical literature on skin cancer apps to explore the number of apps on the market, ascertain how accurate they are, and what the benefits and limitations of these technological solutions are. Examples of apps include teledermatology, photo storage, and risk calculation.

Diagnosis Of Skin Cancer

The researchers found that some of these apps have a comparatively high success rate for the diagnosis of skin cancer. Teledermatology correctly identified 88% of people with skin cancer and 97% of those with benign lesions.

Apps which use fractal theory analysis algorithms were the next most successful category, this correctly identified 73 %% of people with skin cancer and 83% of people with benign lesions. These types of technology have huge potential, as 50% of dermatology referrals in the UK relate to skin cancer. Early diagnosis results in up to 100% five-year survival, compared with 25% in women and 10% in men diagnosed at a later stage. 

Lesions On Skin

However, the researchers point to three major failings with some of the apps: a lack of rigorous published trials to show they work and are safe; a lack of input during the app development from specialists to identify which lesions are suspicious; and flaws in the technology used, namely how the photos are analysed.

The researchers explain that, without specialist input, the apps may not recognise rarer or unusual cancers. Even where the technology is efficient, if it has not been combined with specialist input from a dermatologist, it may not pick up on all red-flag symptoms.

In terms of technology, an area where colour and pattern recognition software apps seem to particularly struggle currently, is in recognising scaly, crusted, ulcerated areas or melanomas which do not produce pigment (amelanotic melanomas). This increases the number of false negatives and delays treatment.

Apps specifically based on patient education on skin cancer can offer public health benefits in terms of how to stay safe in the sun, or the warning signs to look out for. "But as per the British Association of Dermatologists recommendations, most apps cannot currently substitute dermatologist review when it comes to actual diagnosis."

These apps are not a replacement for an expert dermatologist, but they can be a useful tool in the early detection of skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and rates have been climbing since the 1960s. Every year over 230,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC), the most common type are diagnosed in the UK. In addition to NMSC, there are approximately 16,000 new cases of melanoma every year, resulting in around 2,285 UK deaths annually.