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South Florida Dermatologists Don’t Believe the Melanoma Detection App Hype

Melanoma detection apps don’t provide a clear diagnosis, say several South Florida dermatologists. Regardless of the result, many patients’ conditions still require biopsies.

Melanoma is a serious concern in this sunny and hot part of the country. According to the American Cancer Society, there were 87,110 new diagnosed cases of melanoma in 2017 and 9,730 of them are terminal. A 2012 study from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine says that Florida has the second highest rate of the skin cancer in the country, with over 600 people in Florida dying from melanoma every year.

Getting a dermatologist appointment can be challenging, even in places like Southern Florida which is known for its large population of skin doctors. Certain insurance plans or lack of insurance can make it even more difficult for people with suspicious lesions to book a dermatologist visit. The emergence of melanoma detection apps has, in some way, attempted to make diagnosis procedures faster and more affordable. However, the apps’ accuracy rates don’t bode well for being a reliable alternative to seeing a real life dermatologist. A 2013 JAMA Dermatology study from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center found that 75 percent of detection apps misdiagnosed 30 percent or more “of melanomas as unconcerning.”

“The biggest problem is lesions in a gray area,” Steven Rosenberg, MD, a West Palm Beach dermatologist told The Sun-Sentinel. “Most of these programs can’t figure them out. You still end up doing a biopsy.”

Danielle Manolakos, MD, a dermatologist based in Delray Beach agreed: “These devices are only as good as the person who is (choosing) the suspicious lesion, because if the wrong lesion is picked the information won't be that useful, which is one of the reasons why it will still be important for patients to see their dermatologist once a year for a full skin examination.”

Some app developers are working to create technology that might reduce the probability of error in virtual melanoma diagnosis. A professor at Florida Atlantic University, Oge Marques, PhD, is currently creating an app that will increase the rate of accuracy for skin cancer detection. “You would press a button and have a diagnosis,” he said. “Will it generate false alarms? Will dermatologists be happy about it? It could go either way.”

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