A new smartphone app that claims to detect warning signs of skin cancer has just been launched in the UK market following a two year beta in the U.S.

The novel app, called Mole Detect Pro, provides its users with a remote professional diagnosis within 24 hours. To do so, it safely stores pictures of moles and uses an advanced algorithm to grade the probability of a possible melanoma based on the ABCDE method of detection.

Dermatologists frequently bring up this acronym during check-ups and ask their patients to keep an eye on symptoms at home.

The ABCDE method stands for:

  • Asymmetry – irregular shape
  • Border – ragged, notched, or blurred
  • Color – more than one in an individual mole
  • Diameter – bigger than 6mm
  • Evolution – changing size, color, or shape

Leading dermatologist in the UK, Dr. John Ashworth, has shown a lot of interest in this new app, which has been created by the same experts from the U.S. who are responsible for the award-winning instant smartphone eye test, known as Eye Netra.

Mole Detective, a beta version, has been available in the United States for 2 years. Its users as well as several health experts have seen its success in detecting melanoma.

A version of the app which will be able to scan for “Ugly Duckling” moles from videos that people upload right from their smartphones is currently being worked on by the experts responsible for Mole Detect.

Dermatologists consider these types of moles the most suspicious because they usually look different than other ones around them.

Dr. Ashworth said:

“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.”

Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the UK, and unfortunately, young adults are frequently affected by the disease. A previous study indicated that young people who use indoor tanning have a 69% higher risk of developing a type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma (BCC).

Therefore, self-detection is very important and has the potential to save lives.

Dr. Ashworth concluded:

“This tool facilitates that assessment through technology and encourages dermatology appointments so that more cases of melanoma can be detected early. It’s a fantastic step forward for consumers and for health workers alike.”

In 2012, the University of Michigan in the U.S. developed UMSkinCheck, an app where people can create a photographic baseline of their skin and take photos of suspicious moles or other skin lesions. The app then helps to self-examine in a step-by-step process.

There are an ever-increasing number of apps out there that claim to be able to detect skin cancer, and it concerns many in the medical community that there is currently no regulation in place by the FDA for medical apps. A recent study that set out to determine the accuracy of available melanoma apps produced concerning results. Published in January in JAMA Dermatology, the study determined that out of four melanoma detecting smartphone apps tested, three of those misdiagnosed at least 30% of melanomas as “unconcerning.” The study concluded:

“The performance of smartphone applications in assessing melanoma risk is highly variable, and 3 of 4 smartphone applications incorrectly classified 30% or more of melanomas as unconcerning. Reliance on these applications, which are not subject to regulatory oversight, in lieu of medical consultation can delay the diagnosis of melanoma and harm users.”

Dr. Mary Martini, an associate professor of dermatology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, commented, “When an app tells you something is benign when it isn’t, that’s a major problem.”

If you’re considering downloading an app for detecting skin cancer, it’s worth reading this article from Medill Reports – Chicago, Is that mole melanoma? There’s an app for that.

According to the CDC, some of the general risk factors associated with skin cancer include:

  • skin that burns, freckles, or reddens easily in the sun
  • light colored hair, such as blond or red
  • light colored eyes, such as blue or green
  • a naturally lighter skin color
  • family or personal history of skin cancer
  • particular types and a large number of moles
  • sun exposure
  • going indoor tanning
  • history of sunburns

Written by Sarah Glynn