New App Detects Skin Cancer, Does It Really Work?

Earlier this month I received an email from a publicist about SpotCheck, a new application available on iTunes and invented by Dr. Bobby Buka that allows you to upload an image of a potentially dangerous mole with your smartphone, send it into a board of dermatologists for review with no co-pay.  Sounds genius right?  Of course, but as a skeptical journalist I spoke with Dr. Ilyse Lefkowicz to get another opinion before you spend the $4.99 submitting a photo. "While this sounds like a wonderful app for those who can't get in to see a derm or who can't afford it, I have many issues with it," remarks Dr. Lefkowicz.

Top Concerns:

1. The quality of the photo

If a user logs onto the website, they'll see photo instructions that advise to choose a room with lots of light, not to zoom in on the mole and not to use flash.  However, I doubt most users would log on to review the tutorial.  "I would not feel comfortable making a diagnosis based on a picture taken by an ameteur," Dr. Lefkowicz comments.  The FDA recently approved of Melafind after years of research, which is a hand held scanner and computer program that dermatologists are using in office now to analyze images of moles.  This app doesn't compare.

2. History matters

"When diagnosing a skin lesion I need to know the whole story when forming conclusions," states Dr. Lefkowicz.  While SpotCheck doesn't actually diagnose, it does let you know if your mole is potentially dangerous and recommend whether or not you visit a derm.

3. It's not always cancer

When being told by an app that you have a potentially dangerous mole, you're automatically going to think the worst – melanoma?  However, that may not be the case. It's important for dermatologists to perform a full body scan, because often times many people have several abnormal moles, which is OK.  "It's comforting when I see a patient has more than one abnormal lesion," comments Dr. Lefkowitz.  "Even though they may appear suspicious, it's typical and they don't always have to come off."

As I suspected, the app is beneficial for those who don't regularly visit a derm or those who are on a budget.  I can only hope that those who are using it are sending in clear enough photos and taking action by following up with an in office visit if they get a negative response.  In the end, when it comes to potentially life threatening moles, the choice is yours.  Ask yourself... is relying on your smart phone worth it?