Skin cancer apps 'dangerous'

Experts are warning people not to replace visits to the doctor with smartphone apps that claim to detect skin cancer after a study found the technology gets it wrong almost a third of the time.

A number of phone applications, widely available to the public, market the ability to evaluate skin legions and provide advice to the user about whether it is cancerous.

The apps give a recommendation after comparing photos taken of the suspicious legion over a period of time to gauge unusual changes, or by judging a photo against a library of skin cancer images.

Findings from the study at the University of Pittsburgh have confirmed suspicions about the risks of using phone apps for medical education, prompting health experts to warn people against using the diagnostic tool until they have been proven effective.

Terry Slevin education and research director at the Cancer Council of Western Australia believes the idea is "appealing", but warned the public against using them.

"Relying solely upon the app is potentially dangerous," he said.

Dangerous cases of melanoma were incorrectly identified as being safe in more than 30 per cent of incidents examined in the study which measured the performance of four smartphone programs.

Mr Slevin said while there is an obvious benefit to the user, further research was required before he would recommend the use of such a tool to the public.

"There are some obvious possible advantages — particularly for people in rural and remote settings where seeing a doctor is very difficult."

"The risk of course is — what if people rely on the advice provided by the app — and it's wrong.

"A lesion determined by an app to be benign — or showing no noticeable change by a smartphone photo — may give a false sense of security that no further action is needed. And that may result in a later diagnosis and potentially poorer prognosis," he said.

The Cancer Council WA had been approached by "half a dozen" programmers who asked if it would participate in developing a cancer detecting tool.

"At this stage we are reluctant to sign up," he said.

Mr Slevin said while technology can be useful the Cancer Council WA recommends any suspicions are raised with a doctor in a physical setting.

"For anyone looking to use the app the best place is in the context of a clinical trial that is assessing the effectiveness of them.

"Until, however, the technology is well proven by solid trial data — we are keen that people take the more reliable path by reporting suspicious lesions to their GP," he said.

This story Skin cancer apps 'dangerous' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.