Smartphone app helps detect skin cancer - KCTV5

Smartphone app helps detect skin cancer

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Experts say more than 161,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma this year. KCTV5 talked with doctors about whether a new way to diagnose potential problem spots with an app can be trusted. (KCTV5) Experts say more than 161,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma this year. KCTV5 talked with doctors about whether a new way to diagnose potential problem spots with an app can be trusted. (KCTV5)
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

Experts say more than 161,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma this year -- a startling number for a potentially deadly disease.

KCTV5 News talked with doctors about whether a new way to diagnose potential problem spots with an app can be trusted at all.

“We did a scan, and it was in my liver, my lungs, my spine and lymph nodes and eventually spread to my brain,” said Tim Grimes, a cancer survivor.

Grimes had Kansas City on his side as he battled a deadly form of cancer. The Kansas City Royals fan was given less than a year to live after being diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma.

After rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries, Grimes is cancer free. His advice to everyone is no shocker -- get checked and don’t wait.

“If it's questionable, play it safe. Get it checked out because in my situation, if I'd waited any longer, it would've been too late,” he said.

KCTV5 wondered what he’d think of an app that can detect suspicious spots.

There are apps out there that claim to do just that. You take a picture of the spot, upload it, and the companies use mathematical algorithms to calculate the “fractal dimension” of your skin lesion and surrounding tissues. It will then tell you whether you should see your doctor.

Grimes says he thinks it a great idea but doesn’t trust it as much as just heading straight to the doctor’s office.

“I don't know how much I would trust just looking at a picture of something I think it's maybe a good first line of defense," he said.

And dermatologists agree. Dr. Daniel Aires with the University of Kansas Health System says while it’s always best to get anything suspicious checked out by your doctor, an app like this can be a great tool in the fight against skin cancer.

“The apps can be helpful when they get people to focus on what's going on with their skin,” Aires said.

Aires says the technology is impressive, but only your doctor can use instruments that actually allow the trained eye to see just below the surface of the skin, something your smartphone simply can’t do.

“Some of these apps are getting pretty good at picking up bad stuff. The problem is apps can still miss a lot of bad stuff and that can be dangerous,” Aires said.

Despite the advancements, Aires says one of the best ways to fight skin cancer is still using a good old-fashioned technique.

“If they can look for moles that don't look like the others, like the old Sesame Street song, One of These Things Is Not Like the Others. If that's the case, if there's an ugly duckling mole that doesn't fit in ... that one's worth getting evaluated," Aires said.

These apps do clearly state on their websites that an assessment is not a medical diagnosis and should never replace a visit to your doctor.

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