Diagnosing Skin Cancer via iPhone: The Apps to Know

Are you keeping an eye on your moles? Really, though? In light of the shortage of dermatologists, a market has developed to augment DIY monitoring of skin anomalies of all sorts. Instagram filters not recommended.

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Forty-two percent of Americans live in areas that are "underserved by dermatologists," according to a set of recent and oft-cited journal studies. Long lines for Botox? Hardly. With all the cosmetics hoopla, it can be easy to forget that dermatology is most often serious business. Skin cancer, for instance, is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. When caught early, it's also entirely treatable.

Here's where things get interesting: Yes, people get a lot of moles, and moles tend to make people very nervous (with reason!). Yet in truth, while it's important to closely monitor your moles, most really are benign. 

It takes just minutes for a good doctor to do a check, but compare that to the one to four months the average American currently has to wait to get an appointment. Moles aren't the only dermatologic condition that's simple to diagnose, either. Acne has a high cure rate, given just a handful of data points. Rosacea, eczema... the list goes on.

What this translates to is a massive market of conditions so easy to diagnose that they possess relatively low liability, a fact that's putting dermatology at the forefront of some extremely impressive mobile and telemedicine technology.

"Mobile dermatology solutions can help solve the problem of access, and that's fueling a lot of funding," says Unity Stoakes, co-founder of the Manhattan-based StartUp Health, an acceleration academy for health and wellness entrepreneurs. "Anyone with a smartphone has access to affordable apps, built-in diagnostic devices, and thereby the ability to connect with specialists who can help them monitor and check their skin." 

We test drove five apps and sites heading up the trend:

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Skin Scan: The Contagion of mole-checkers, Skin Scan's website sports a ticker board of how many low, medium, and high-risk moles it's diagnosed to date, along with an unsettling map showing exactly where in the world each case occurred. The app itself is--thankfully--less dramatic. Take a picture of your mole, upload it, and Skin Scan will, within minutes, use a proprietary algorithm to analyze the fractal patterns of your skin. This, in turn, can determine if a mole is growing according to pattern or abnormally, a sign of melanoma. If a mole appears suspect, the Skin Scan can steer you to nearby dermatologists. Importantly, you can archive your results, meaning you can also track growth over weeks and months. Worth keeping in mind: The service is a bit picky with pics, so take a few shots of each spot. Cost: $4.99 for the initial download, and free thereafter.

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SpotCheck: For a somewhat more entertaining romp with melanoma (if you find mole jokes funny. And they can be. Sort of...), SpotCheck employs the services of a team of dermatologists who've signed on to peer at photos of your moles in their spare time. Impressively, the app lets you know within 24 hours whether whoever looked at your case thinks you might want to consider seeing a live MD. Like Skin Scan, Spot Check provides a list of docs tailored to your location, should you need a follow-up. Props for some good photo-taking tips, as well. Cost: $4.99 to download, and free after that.

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Sara Reistad-Long is a journalist based in New York City. She has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and O, the Oprah Magazine.

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