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.
- Types of skin check apps
- Tips when using skin check apps
- Melanoma prevention apps
- Guidance on choosing melanoma detection apps
Types of skin check apps
There are a variety of apps that provide advice on skin lesions or moles that might cause people concern. The apps fall into different categories:
- video conferencing apps which allow a patient and a dermatologist to be connected for a consultation
- photo storage apps which allows users to compare photos monthly to look for changes in a mole
- store-and-forward apps which allow users to send photographs of skin lesions to a skin specialist or dermatologist for analysis and guidance on whether to get medical advice
- automated skin assessment apps which use computerised analyses (known as automated algorithms) to assess photos of your skin to 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.
Tips when using skin check apps
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.
Guidance on choosing melanoma detection apps
In a study assessing consumer expectations of mobile apps for early melanoma detection, consumers described the following features as important in mobile teledermoscopy apps (users send photos of their skin lesion to a medical practitioner via a mobile app)3:
- Images: instructions on how to take a good-quality image, example images of what constitutes a suspicious lesion and directions on which image to monitor from a medical practitioner.
- Reminders: participants would like to receive reminders to conduct skin self examinations via push notifications.
- Ease of use: the image-taking and sending process needs to be quick and uncomplicated.
- Set up: apps should integrate single sign-on using their existing information from a social media service, thus removing the step of entering personal details to set up an account.
- Transparency: app transparency was important, and participants would like to see reputable organisations and dermatologist’s credentials endorsing the service.
In addition, participants reported they would not use apps that took a long time to load, required too many updates or required a large amount of phone memory.
NOTE from Health Navigator: Health Navigator believe that it is preferable not to provide health consumers with example pictures of melanoma. This is because melanoma can be very subtle and can have a wide variety of appearances. Consumers could easily be falsely reassured. Read more about melanoma.
In addition, single sign on systems may not be ideal with respect to privacy and security.
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.
- Koh U, Horsham C, Soyer HP, et al. Consumer Acceptance and Expectations of a Mobile Health Application to Photograph Skin Lesions for Early Detection of Melanoma. Dermatology. 2019;235(1):4-10
- 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.
Disclaimer: Health Navigator’s app library is a free consumer service to help you decide whether a health app would be suitable for you. Our review process is independent. We have no relationship with the app developers or companies and no responsibility for the service they provide. This means that if you have an issue with one of the apps we have reviewed, you will need to contact the app developer or company directly.