A melanoma is a malignant tumour (cancer) that occurs in your skin. It often appears as a new spot on normal skin or develops from an existing mole. If found and treated early, most melanomas are curable. The key is to have any skin changes or moles checked straight away.
There are a variety of apps where you can take photos of your skin and track and monitor changes over time. These apps give you a risk assessment of a mole by either sending your photos to a skin specialist for analysis OR using computerised analyses (known as automated algorithms) that give you your skin cancer risk.
Studies have found melanoma detection apps that let you send images to a skin specialist are more reliable than apps using computerised analyses.1,2 Apps that give an incorrect diagnosis can give people a false sense of security, believing that no further action is needed.
The Firstcheck app lets you send in photos of your mole, rash or skin concern to a registered New Zealand skin specialist. They will check for a range of skin conditions, including melanoma, and tell you if you need to visit your GP. You can choose which skin specialist you would like to use, and somebody should be in touch within 72 hours. Costs for this app start from $19.95. Read more about Firstcheck app.
Tips when using skin check apps
- Do talk with your doctor about any changes to your skin or moles straight away.
- Do use an app to store photos of moles in between skin checks with your doctor.
- Do use apps to learn more about preventing and detecting melanoma.
- Do check your own skin regularly.
- Don’t use an automated algorithm app. These increase your risk of misdiagnosing melanoma and other skin cancers as not needing further assessment. Using one of these apps can delay you seeking medical advice, leading to delayed diagnosis.
- Don’t rely on apps to diagnose melanoma. Any moles that change colour or size or look asymmetrical need to be checked by your doctor straight away.
Remember, there are other types of skin cancers, so it’s a good idea how to minimise your risk and what to look out for when you’re checking your skin. Read more about melanoma.
Melanoma prevention apps
Melanoma prevention apps let you store photos of your skin lesions and moles so you can keep a record of what they look like over time. This is a good way to check if they’ve changed shape, size or colour since your last skin check with your doctor. Using an app to learn more about melanoma, advice on avoiding UV rays and sunscreen reminders can be useful to help decrease your risk of developing melanoma. But it’s still important to check your own skin regularly, particularly if you’re aged over 50. Read more about checking for melanoma.
A study by Resneck et al, 2016 recommends the following practices for direct-to-consumer telemedicine apps and websites:
- Disclose the licensure, credentials, and location of their clinicians, making sure that all are licensed in the states where patients are located, and give patients some choice of which clinician will provide their care.
- Obtain proof of identity of patients seeking care, and establish an initial relationship with live interactive video before beginning a store-and-forward relationship (when a patient’s existing health care team is uninvolved).
- Collect relevant medical history, including at least a history of present illness, review of systems, medication list, and drug allergies. In many instances, appropriate past medical records should be available to the consulting clinician.
- Recognize that the accurate diagnosis of disease often requires an interactive history, and train participating clinicians to ask appropriate follow-up questions to complete a patient’s relevant medical history.
- Seek the use of laboratory studies in clinical scenarios when an in-person physician would have relied on those studies.
- Provide diagnoses and treatments consistent with existing evidence-based guidelines. Engage in meaningful informed consent, including discussion of risks, potential adverse effects, pregnancy concerns, and a clear follow-up plan when prescribing medications.
- Collect information about a patient’s existing health care team and provide medical records to relevant team members—unless a patient opts out.
- Have relationships with local physicians in all areas where they treat patients, so that patients are not sent to emergency departments or left on their own when they need urgent in-person follow-up or experience medication adverse effects.
- Create quality assurance programs that regularly monitor clinical performance, patient outcomes, follow-up, and care coordination.
Position statement on skin check apps Melanoma New Zealand
- Wolf JA, Moreau JF, Akilov O, et al. Diagnostic inaccuracy of smartphone applications for melanoma detection. JAMA Dermatol. 2013 Apr;149(4):422-6.
- Kassianos AP, Emery JD, Murchie P, Walter FM. Smartphone applications for melanoma detection by community, patient and generalist clinician users: a review. Br J Dermatol. 2015 Jun;172(6):1507-18.
- Ngoo A, Finnane A, McMeniman E, et al. Efficacy of smartphone applications in high-risk pigmented lesions. Australas J Dermatol. 2017 Feb 27.
- Voss RK, Woods TN, Cromwell KD, et al. Improving outcomes in patients with melanoma: strategies to ensure an early diagnosis. Patient Relat Outcome Meas. 2015 Nov 6;6:229-42.
- Resneck JS Jr, Abrouk M, Steuer M, et al. Choice, Transparency, Coordination, and Quality Among Direct-to-Consumer Telemedicine Websites and Apps Treating Skin Disease. JAMA Dermatol. 2016 Jul 1;152(7):768-75.