Skin Cancer Detection Apps - What You Need to Know

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Are you worried that a mole might be skin cancer? There's an app for that But before you set aside all your concerns and rely strictly on the results of the app, there are some things you should know.

Whether you use Apple iTunes or GooglePlay, chances are there are numerous skin cancer apps you can download. Some of these apps imply that they can diagnosis a mole but according to a study completed in January, this can be dangerous and give a false sense of security. Researchers found that three out of four apps tested misdiagnosed melanoma - stating a mole was "unconcerning" - more than 30 percent of the time. [1]

When melanoma is identified and treated early, the survival rate is around 95 percent. By the time it reaches stage 4, the survival rate decreases to only 15 percent [American Cancer Society]. For those whose moles were dismissed as unconcerning by an app, an accurate diagnosis and treatment may have been delayed. "A false negative could delay treatment by giving the user an unwarranted sense of security...A delay can be life threatening for people with undiagnosed melanoma because if left untreated, the cancer can spread to other organs," states Dr. Mary Martini, associate professor of dermatology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. [2]

Another concern about these apps is the lack of regulation. The Food and Drug Administration does not currently monitor or have any regulation in place for medical apps. Apple and GooglePlay base their decision to sell the app on functionality for the user, not accuracy.

Despite the study's results, skin cancer apps do have some usefulness. Apps that allow you to take pictures of moles and track any changes in the moles provide important information you can share with your doctor. Some apps, such as the one developed by the University of Michigan, offer some real health benefits. This app walks a user through a complete self-exam, taking 23 photos which cover your body from head to toe. These photos are then stored and can be referred to later to track any changes. If you don't know a skin cancer specialist, the app also allows you to search for a medical professional in your area.

Another app, Mole Detect Pro, analyzes the pictures of your moles and uses an algorithm to determine to probability of cancer. The pictures are also sent to a medical professional for diagnosis within 24 hours. A leading dermatologist in the UK, Dr. John Ashworth states, "The technology behind this app is pretty impressive and the net result is that a lot more people with a potential problem will end up going on to seek a professional diagnosis." [3]

But others feel the opposite will happen. According to ABC News, "dermatologists worry that people, particularly those who are lower-income and uninsured, might substitute the apps' findings for medical advice." [4]

If you choose to use an app for skin cancer, it is important to remember that these apps don't take the place of medical care and diagnosis. It is recommended that everyone receive regular skin check ups and, if you notice any changes in shape, color or size of any moles, you should seek medical attention to determine if you have skin cancer. Remember, early detection is essential in treating melanoma.


[1] [2] "Is That Mole Melanoma? There's an App for That." 2013, March 12, Stephanie Howson, Medill, Northwestern University

[3] "New Smartphone App 'Detects' Skin Cancer," 2013, Mar 22, Staff Writer, Medical News Today

[4] "Smartphone Apps Can Fall Short in Detecting Skin Cancer, Study Finds," 2013, Jan. 19, Dan Childs and Daniel Clark, ABC News

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.