Smartphone apps to detect skin cancer found unreliable

  • Date: 12 February 2020

SMARTPHONE apps used to assess suspicious skin lesions cannot be relied upon to detect melanomas and other skin cancers, according to a study published in the BMJ.

A research team led from the University of Birmingham undertook a systematic review of nine studies evaluating six separate algorithm-based smartphone apps promising risk stratification of skin lesions.

All six apps showed variable and unreliable test accuracy. The studies evaluated apps in selected groups of lesions, using images taken by experts rather than by app users, and many did not identify whether low-risk lesions were truly benign.

The researchers concluded: "Our review found poor and variable performance of algorithm based smartphone apps, which indicates that these apps have not yet shown sufficient promise to recommend their use. The current CE marking assessment processes are inadequate for protecting the public against the risks created by using smartphone diagnostic or risk stratification apps.

"Smartphones and dedicated skin cancer apps can have other roles; for example, assisting in skin self-examination, tracking the evolution of suspicious lesions in people more at risk of developing skin cancer, or when used for store and forward teledermatology. However, healthcare professionals who work in primary and secondary care need to be aware of the limitations of algorithm based apps to reliably identify melanomas, and should inform potential smartphone app users about these limitations."

Link: Algorithm based smartphone apps to assess risk of skin cancer in adults: systematic review of diagnostic accuracy studies

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