By Mark Teich
The Skin Cancer Foundation has always recommended that adults thoroughly examine their skin at least once a month for signs of skin cancer. As technology continues to change the way we live our lives, it also changes the ways we perform self-exams! Here’s what two of our expert dermatologists want you to know about using tech to check:
The combination of lesion image collection, self-examination tutorials and support groups on the Internet is having a major impact on early detection, says Allan Halpern, MD. “The fact that melanomas are being diagnosed at thinner and thinner stages, and that most of them are not being found in screenings, means only one thing: public education. It shows that patients have already learned a heck of a lot about early detection,” he asserts. “The Skin Cancer Foundation can take a lot of credit for that.”
Cell Phone Photographs and Calendars:
“I recommend that some patients photograph their own skin using their cell phones, especially for hard-to-see places like the back,” says Jeffrey Brackeen, MD. A selfie stick can be helpful. “They should use the photos as a reference to compare from month to month with later photos. They can even give themselves a reminder on the phone’s calendar or notes app to recheck the moles they shoot. I recommend setting the calendar for the first of every month.”
Mobile “Diagnostic” Apps:
Taking it one step further, many melanoma “diagnostic” apps are available on mobile phones today. “There are hundreds of these available, and some can be an excellent adjunct to your self-exam,” says Dr. Halpern. You take photos of your lesions, download them into the apps and follow them over time. They automatically compare the lesion against subsequent photos you take and against photo banks of melanomas and other lesions, alerting you to any changes that might be suggestive of skin cancer.
However, “diagnostic” is a misnomer. “You should not use these apps to self-diagnose,” says Dr. Halpern. “They are non-vetted and unapproved as diagnostic tools. In theory they could be helpful in diagnosis, but we know they can mislead.” What they can do, however, is give you monthly calendar reminders to check and photograph your lesions again, give you a record of all those pictures so you can tell if they’re changing, and give you an idea of when you need to make an appointment with your dermatologist.
Mark Teich is the scientific director at The Skin Cancer Foundation. He has served as the executive editor of the Foundation’s Melanoma Letter for more than two decades.
* This article was first published in the 2017 issue of The Skin Cancer Foundation Journal.