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A Melanoma Smart Phone App - Really?

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - These days, you can find smart phone "apps" that promise to do just about everything. Now, there's one that says it can help determine your risk for melanoma.

The new apps claim to turn your smart phone into a medical imaging device. But is it really smart to trust your phone with something as serious as skin cancer?

Dr. Benjamin Chong, an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, has his doubts. "I do have concerns about the quality of photos that are taken [and] the lighting. That could effect the judgment, the quality of the diagnosis that's made," explained Dr. Chong.

One app is called Skin Scan, another Skin of Mine. CBS 11 News tried both on Jennifer Maldanado from San Antonio, who had a large mole on the right side of her lower cheek. Stephanie Dalessandro, from New York, also tried the apps. Just left of her nose, she had a much smaller mole on her right cheek.

The Skin Scan app said Jennifer had a "medium risk lesion." Skin of Mine said it detected three warning signs for her mole. "Makes me want to go check it out maybe," Jennifer said. "I haven't been to a dermatologist in a few years."

Both apps told Stephanie the same thing. "I don't think it's really useful," she said.

It made CBS 11 News Reporter carol Cavazos wonder what the apps would say about the mole just below and to the right of her left eye.

Skin Scan said, "medium risk detected". Skin of Mine said there were two warning signs.
Back in the doctor's office, Dr. Chong told Carol, "Not really anything worrisome.

Were the apps just giving automated responses? CBS 11 News tested the apps again. This time we didn't scan humans, we connected them to the end of a 9-volt battery, a U.S. dime and a small smiley face.

Here are the Skin Scan and Skin of Mine results:

9-volt battery:
Medium Risk Lesion
3 Warning Signs

High-risk lesion
See a doctor soon

Medium Risk Lesion
But, no warning signs

"I think the utility for this to have a firm diagnosis is fairly low," said Dr. Chong. He believes the apps may be good for raising awareness about skin disease, but says it doesn't compare to seeing a doctor in person.

Or as Stephanie Dalessandro said, "If they're concerned about cancer, I think they would go to their doctor and not their phone!"

CBS 11 News called Skin Scan, whose company is located in Romania, and they said results from their scans might have appeared similar because they've been having problems with the company computer server.

We also contacted Skin of Mine. The company is based in New York and they said their equipment was sensitive because they'd rather warn someone of a potential problem than not.

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