Cancer screening just went mobile. A new free app developed at the University of Michigan Health System allows users to create a photographic baseline of their skin and photograph suspicious moles or other skin lesions, walking users step-by-step through a skin self-exam. The app, UMSkinCheck, sends automatic reminders so users can monitor changes to a skin lesion over time, and provides pictures of various types of skin cancers for comparisons. The app is designed for iPhone and iPad and is available to download on iTunes.
"Whole body photography is a well-established resource for following patients at risk for melanoma. However, it requires a professional photographer, is not always covered by insurance, and can be an inconvenience. Now that many people have digital cameras on their phones, it's more feasible to do this at home," says Michael Sabel, M.D., associate professor of surgery at the U-M Medical School, who was the lead physician involved in developing the app.
More than 2 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, and some 50,000 will be diagnosed with melanoma, the most serious kind. Regular skin checks can help people discover melanoma in its earliest stages.
The app, a collaboration of the University of Michigan's technology and clinical expertise, guides users through a series of 23 photos, covering the body from head to toe. Photos are stored within the app and serve as a baseline for future comparisons. The app will create a reminder to repeat a skin self-exam on a regular basis.
If a mole appears to be changing or growing, the photos can then be shared with a dermatologist to help determine whether a biopsy is necessary.
"We recommend skin self-exams for everyone in order to detect skin cancer at the earliest stages, when treatment is less invasive and more successful. If you have fair skin or burn easily, have had sunburns in the past or used tanning beds, or have a family history of melanoma, you are considered high-risk, and so it's even more important," Sabel says.
Not sure if you're at high risk of skin cancer? The app includes a risk calculator that allows you to input your personal data to calculate your individual risk.
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