Can you diagnose cancer with an app? Skin Scan aims to find out

Jul 3, 2011
Health

If you hate going to the doctor, you’ll be thrilled to hear that app developer Skin Scan wants to help you replace that initial visit to the dermatologist. The Romania-based company behind Skin Scan: Your Pocket Scan Technology for Skin Cancer Prevention was recently awarded €50,000 from Seedmoney to continue work on its algorithm-based diagnostic […]

If you hate going to the doctor, you’ll be thrilled to hear that app developer Skin Scan wants to help you replace that initial visit to the dermatologist. The Romania-based company behind Skin Scan: Your Pocket Scan Technology for Skin Cancer Prevention was recently awarded €50,000 from Seedmoney to continue work on its algorithm-based diagnostic app. For my money — the sale price of $4.99, for now — I’m still skeptical of relying on an app as a serious medical instrument, but if your alternative is not seeing a doctor at all, the app could be a worthy investment if you’re worried about a mole.

Using your iPhone’s camera — the app claims to support all iDevices, but I can’t imagine a camera of lesser quality than iPhone 4’s working — Skin Scan will analyze an image of a mole to determine its risk level. The trickiest part of Skin Scan is taking the photo. The app requires precise images, well-lit and free of hair or other interferences. Scanning takes a bit of time, and you won’t know if your image is acceptable until the process is complete. When taking the photo, it’s imperative you hold your iPhone steady and that you tap the screen to focus on the intended area. Getting the proper positioning probably will take some practice, and if you have a friend nearby, you’d do well to ask for help since holding the phone yourself might create a shadow. After you’ve snapped the photo, you’ll need to center and zoom in on the mole in the red box. Then you’ll be ready to scan.

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If your image is readable, Skin Scan will calculate the mole’s fractals to estimate if it’s developing abnormally. Using what is already known about melanomas, the app will determine the mole’s risk level and if a doctor’s visit is necessary. One of my tests came back with a medium risk result (meaning I should keep an eye on it), which is when the archiving feature comes in handy. Skin Scan will save your analyzed images for future reference, giving you the ability to track a mole’s development. If anything, this is the app’s most-useful feature. Again, this is all dependent on successfully taking a scan-able photo — and yes, it is that difficult.

Of course, Skin Scan can’t replace good old-fashioned medicine, and its results should not be taken as infallible. Skin Scan is an app to watch, though, and is perhaps ushering in a new wave of usefulness when it comes to iDevices.

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Kathryn Swartz

Kathryn Swartz is a freelance writer/editor who doesn't know how people lived pre iPhone. She attended the Missouri School of Journalism.

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