Early testing of an iPhone app developed to detect melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer – found an accuracy rate of around 85 percent. This is similar to that achieved by specialist dermatologists, and more accurate than examination by primary care physicians.

Melanoma, usually caused by too much exposure to the sun, is responsible for around three-quarters of all skin cancer deaths. It’s dangerous because it can spread quickly if not caught at an early stage, but surgery has a high success rate if the condition is detected and treated soon after symptoms appear … 

The DermoScreen app was developed by University of Houston professor of engineering technology, George Zouridakis. A $500 dermoscope – a combined magnifying lens and light – is attached to the back of the iPhone, and the iPhone camera used to take a photo of a suspicious mole or lesion. The app then analyzes the image to determine whether or not it is likely to be cancerous, with the result available in just a few seconds.

The app is currently being evaluated for further testing at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. It’s hoped that the same approach might allow screening for other conditions.

It’s not the first time an iPhone has been used for medical diagnostics. Back in March, Stanford University developed a $90 iPhone accessory to replace ophthalmology kit costing tens of thousands of dollars.

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15 Responses to “iPhone app screens for skin cancer more accurately than your doctor, shows early testing”

  1. Nanny Cool says:

    What a brilliant idea.


  2. The sheer quantity of stories like these is amazing. It’s another reason why a lot of us know the negative APPL press is full of hot air…


  3. There are a few things that make me uneasy about these iPhone attachments. The iPhone can’t be easily cleaned/sterilized. I also don’t like the idea of a doctor having my personal info on his cellphone. It’d be different if the phones were deployed by hospitals or private practices, were strictly work phones and had been configured and managed by the IT department to make them as secure as possible.


  4. I wonder if the 85% accuracy is due to the lens, or the software? If I am a primary care physician with equivalent magnification (or the digital photo via the lens) would I be more accurate or less accurate than the software?


    • If you are a primary care physician who was not trained in the interpretation of high magnification findings in moles and melanoma, your accuracy would probably be just as good as the primary physician without it. That is to say, looking at a magnified image of a mole doesn’t reveal small print that says “melanoma” or “not melanoma”. It reveals a lot of subtle patterns and findings that must be interpreted with a fair amount of expertise. There are entire books written on this topic, and they are not short! In some instances people use scoring algorithms for the findings that are present which can help to predict whether you biopsy or not. But dermoscopy has been around at least 10 years, and only about 40% of dermatologists use them. I think the reason that more people don’t use dermoscopy is because, as a general rule, many people think that when you are suspicious enough to reach for the dermatoscope, you are very likely to be reaching for a scalpel shortly thereafter.
      Other things to keep in mind:
      1) if you are a primary care physician and you miss 15% of the melanomas that present in your practice, you’ll spend a lot of time in court. Because I’m sure that the legalese you agree to when using the App will absolve the software/hardware manufacturer from blame, and then you are the “deep pocket”.
      2) Assuming you take the time to learn about the various findings you see with such magnification, and learn them not only for moles and melanoma, but also the multiple other things that might look similar, then you might approach the accuracy of the specialists. You will also need to develop a level of experience that gives you the confidence to trust your findings and make the correct decision to either biopsy or not biopsy. Which in this case, could be a life-changing decision. For you and the patient.


  5. drtyrell969 says:

    Irony…a cellphone that detects cancer.


  6. sardonick says:

    I hope to see much more in the way of reduced cost and increased effectiveness in health type apps. Makes this (or any device) so much more valuable to the consumer. Particularly those who may not be able to afford costly trips to the GP. Hopefully, urgent care facilities will also use it as a means to cut costs for patients. Cool stuff.


    • There already is a computer system with a camera that does the same thing (MelaFind). To get approval from the FDA, it is only made available to Dermatologists because it isn’t accurate enough to trust in the hands of primary care. Likely the case will be the same for this device since it is only 85% accurate…


  7. rjcardenas89 says:

    Reblogged this on rjcardenas89's Blog and commented:
    Very nice


  8. Marklewood at Serenity Lodge says:

    Wow! This tech is so “Star Treckie”!!