Thursday, July 19, 2012

There's an App for That...

The University of Michigan officially announced the development of a new App for the iPhone and iPad which allows users to screen for skin cancer.  The App prompts the user to take 23 different photographs which would provide a baseline for comparison.  Periodically, the App will remind the user to take photos again…then a comparison can be made to the baseline.

At first, I was a little skeptical of this new App, called UMSkinCheck, because I thought it was supposed to make a diagnosis.  It doesn’t.  From what I understand (I don’t own an iPhone), it provides the user with sample photos of melanoma so as to compare with known bad lesions.  It also quizzes the user to make an assessment of his/her risk of melanoma.  Finally, I believe it reminds the user that it’s time for a skin check with the dermatologist.  At least I hope this is true.

My dermatologist explained to me that everyone has their own version of a “normal mole.”  A spot that may be normal to me might be abnormal to another.  It seems that “normalcy” is defined as to whether one has several moles that match.  “Look for a mole’s partner,” says my doctor.  “If you find a match, particularly close by, then you probably have no worries.  But if the mole is unique to your skin (has no partner), make sure to see the dermatologist.”

This is where I have some problem with UMSkinCheck.  It’s quite possible that one may have melanoma and it not match the sample photos provided.  (My brother’s second bout of melanoma was simply thought to be a dry patch of skin).  Or vice versa, a mole might seem suspicious based on the samples, but it turns out to be one’s “normal mole,” thus causing undo worry.

Another potential issue is that the 23 photos require you to be completely naked.  And it requires someone to take the photos.  Okay, I can see where this could be a fun experience, but it might make the recommended frequency of every 90 days or less a little difficult to achieve.  Plus, I’m not sure I’d want 23 photos of my naked body on my iPhone.  Rest assured that UMSkinCheck is password protected.

I think the primary benefit is that it establishes a database of photos whereby one can make comparisons.  I’m sure there could be some variance in lighting, focus, and distance which might distort the photo from previous pictures, so I hope they have some pretty clear guidelines on how to take a photo.

It’s good to see a device available that encourages people to check their skin.  A monthly self-exam is recommended by many sources, so this may prompt folks to make this a habit.  But self-exams should be considered a supplement to an annual skin exam by one’s dermatologist: a real person, not an App.  He/she is the true expert and should know your skin a little better than the phone. 

If you’ve downloaded the UMSkinCheck App, please share your thoughts.  Offer up a review and I’ll be happy to share it in this blog.

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