Further evaluation needed for smartphone-aided skin cancer diagnosis

Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world, and the incidence is increasing. Could skin cancer detection be transformed by innovative technologies such as digital medicine and artificial intelligence? Dr Fiona Walter (Principal Researcher in Primary Care Cancer Research at the University of Cambridge’s Primary Care Unit) suggests a cautious approach is needed before these innovative technologies can be used safely in the community and in primary care, based on a group of recent studies and reviews.

Smartphone apps providing the user with an instant assessment of skin cancer risk are widely available. The latest systematic review, published in the British Medical Journal, showed variable and unreliable test accuracy for all six apps reviewed.

An alternative use for smartphone apps could be to prompt patients to have a timely consultation with their GP. In JAMA Network Open, Dr Walter and colleagues report an NIHR-funded randomised controlled trial of a commercially available smartphone app set in primary care in the East of England. In this trial of 238 participants, the study team found that there were no significant differences in skin consultation rates or measures of skin self-monitoring in the intervention group.

Dr Walter’s Comment in The Lancet Digital Health also explores smartphone-aided detection of skin cancer and concludes that only once validated should these algorithms be incorporated into smartphone apps for patients or clinical decision support for primary care practitioners. Read her blog in full.