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Public warned of skin cancer detection apps

09 July 2018 08:19

Experts have warned about skin cancer apps

Experts have warned about skin cancer apps

Experts have warned that a lack of rigorous testing of skin cancer detection apps is putting the public at risk.

As the UK basks in heatwave temperatures, researchers have advised that people using these apps should be cautious until the programs have been properly regulated.

Experts led by a team from the University of Birmingham have found that a lack of input from specialists during app development means programs might not recognise certain cancers.

This is putting the public at risk from the UK's most common form of cancer.

Medical flaws

A review of medical literature found three major failings around 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 how the technology analyses photos.

The researchers told the British Association of Dermatologists' annual meeting in Edinburgh that without specialist input, the apps may not recognise rarer or unusual cancers.

And even where the technology is efficient, it may not pick up on all "red flag" symptoms if it has not been combined with specialist input from a dermatologist.

The apps include some that involve sending an image directly to a dermatologist, picture storage, which can be used by individuals to compare photos monthly to look for changes in a mole, and risk calculation based on colour and pattern recognition.

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

But they found that colour and pattern recognition software apps seemed to particularly struggle with recognising scaly, crusted, ulcerated areas or melanomas which do not produce pigment, increasing the number of false negatives and delaying treatment.


Maria Charalambides, from the University of Birmingham's College of Medical and Dental Sciences, who conducted the literature review, said: "Future technology will play a huge part in skin cancer diagnosis.

"However, until adequate validation and regulation of apps is achieved, members of the public should be cautious when using such apps as they come with risk."

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and rates have been climbing since the 1960s.

Every year more than 230,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer - the most common type - are diagnosed in the UK.

Approximately 16,000 new cases of melanoma are also diagnosed every year, resulting in around 2,285 UK deaths annually.

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