Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New skin cancer iPhone apps get rave reviews: Is it worth a try?

A screenshot of University of Michigan's
new skin self exam iPhone app.
Ever since I read this article on CNET about University of Michigan's new skin check app, I've been dying to try it. Trouble is, like most Americans, I am lazy, and sometimes things like "downloading a new iPhone app" fall to the bottom of my priority list.

Today, I saw a report claiming that "Digital Aids Boost Self-Exams for Melanoma." My curiosity once again piqued, I decided to disrobe and give the app a try for myself. After three months of gathering data, scientists found that patients using the app were more than twice as likely to perform self exams and almost three times as likely to feel more confident in detecting a melanoma on their own skin. After trying the app for myself, here are the pros and cons.

The review

First of all, how frickin' cool is it that there is an iPhone app to help us become more aware of potential problem spots on our skin? We live in an increasingly digital world, so being able to set up reminders to perform skin checks is awesome. The University of Michigan app was super easy to find in the iTunes store. Just search "skin cancer." It's free. As for features:

Risk Factors
Based on my age, number of moles on my body, and the region I lived in, the app told me I had a low risk for developing melanoma. Ironic, eh? I wish it would have asked a few more questions--like, do you have a personal or family history of the disease? Or what about number of lifetime sunburns? Or past tanning bed use? Overall impression: Great concept, needs some work.

Full-Body Survey
I was mistakenly under the impression that I would be able to do this myself. There's no way. You absolutely need a buddy to help you with this. You also need to make sure your OK with that buddy getting up close and personal to take 23 pictures of you. More convenient than getting this done in the doctor's office, but what about aging patients who live by themselves? Or 26-year-olds who live in studio apartments and are too embarrassed to ask their friends to take the pictures for them? Overall impression: Wish there was a way to make this a one-man operation.

Lesion Tracker
This feature lets you take photos of suspicious spots that you can refer back to later to see if the mole has been evolving in any way. When I go see my doc, they usually do this with a high resolution camera. Not sure if it was the lighting in my apartment or just the resolution of my iPhone, but when I tried to snap a few photos of my skin, it was really hard to see them. This might be a good tool for me to mentally be more aware of where my potential trouble spots are, but I wouldn't trust the camera to show me any significant changes. Overall impression: Needs higher quality images for this to provide valuable data.

Self Exam
I loved this feature! No photos necessary, it just walks you step-by-step through a self skin exam. If you come across anything suspicious, you can mark that spot on your "virtual body" and check back on it later. I'm all about the self exam and do it frequently. I think this is a great way to educate people how to do skin exams properly on their own. Overall impression: Great tool.

Info Section
Some of the images here are a little cheesy, but for someone who is unfamiliar with skin cancer, it's definitely helpful to have the information readily available. Overall impression: Not bad.

I have to admit, I'm a little disappointed by some of the feature on the app, but I think this is a great first step. I look forward to feature versions that take into account some of the problems I had with photos, as well as a more comprehensive risk assessment tool. If nothing else, apps like this one are raising awareness about the importance of skin exams. Getting to know your body and what's normal for you is so crucial. When you see something that's out of the ordinary, then it's time to make an appointment with your dermatologist.

Have you tried one of these self exam apps? I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.


  1. Hello Katie,
    Thank you for following me on my skin cancer blog.
    click here
    It is really important that we get the word out there about how the sun and tanning beds can effect your life and how its just not worth that tan to get skin cancer.
    I love your blog and will enjoy following you and reading your posts.
    Yes, I tried one of those apps on my iPhone, Skin Scaner...I wasn't impressed but like you said, its a start. When I was at my worse looking during Efudex Chemo treatment, I wanted to go stand in the isle at Walmart where they sell all the suntan products so the young adults could see what can happen. They live in tanning beds and worship the sun to get that tan, never knowing that they are pulling a trigger at them selves.
    Have a blessed day!

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