Skin cancer apps while handy, can be incorrect

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SHAWNEE, Kan. -- Check the app store, and you'll find tens of thousands of apps that are health or medical-related. Some will even screen for melanoma, a skin cancer that can kill. But are those apps accurate?

FOX 4 asked Dr. Meena Singh, a Harvard-educated, board certified dermatologist in Shawnee, to test one app calls SpotMole. She uploaded pictures of moles that she knows are melanomas. Dr. Singh diagnosed them in her patients.

"This comes up as stating the mole does seem problematic and to consult a doctor," said Dr. Singh.

She checked another mole on the app. And another. And one more.

"So the four that we did -- they all stated that these moles seemed problematic," said the dermatologist.

The app worked in all four cases. But that's far from a solid scientific sample. Doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center checked the performance of four skin cancer apps using dozens of images. They found three of the apps incorrectly classified 30 percent of melanomas as unconcerning.

"Well, that's startling," said Dr. Singh.

She says that could cause people to delay seeing a doctor, and that could be deadly. When melanoma isn't cut out in time and it gets into lymph nodes and spreads, it's very hard to cure.

We wondered, too, about the opposite issue. Can the apps show that a mole is problematic when it's not? Dr. Singh focused on a big mole on the bottom of Medical Reporter Meryl Lin McKean's foot.

"One she's had since almost birth and that we know is benign," said Dr. Singh.

Other doctors have also said the mole is not worrisome. But that's not what the app shows.

"It does say the mole seems problematic and to consult a doctor," said the dermatologist.

That's what doctors call a false positive result.

"It's inaccurate, I would state," said Dr. Singh.

It can lead to unnecessary worry, unnecessary doctors' visits and the expense of them.

"However, I never think it's inappropriate to see a doctor if you're concerned about anything on the body," she said.

Dana McBee saw Dr. Singh when she noticed a mole changing on her leg. It was melanoma that was cut out before it spread. After watching the app demonstration, what's McBee's impression?

"I don't think you want to mess around with that," she said.

It's advice you may want to app-ly for your health.

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