UMSkinCheck's developers are pitching the app as a convenient, cost-effective alternative to whole body photography, which traditionally requires a
professional photographer. Still, it requires some time and patience to set up, and you can't go it alone. While you're striking 23 different poses, you
need a partner to line up your body parts with the outlines on the screen, point, and shoot. Be warned: sexy photo time this is not. Having taken the
aforementioned lesson about nude photography to heart, I don't have enough experience with my iPhone's camera to say whether its skin shots typically come
out as grainy and downright unattractive as these do, but suffice it to say that you're really going to want to make sure your chosen password is
Vanity should never get in the way of something that is potentially life-saving, but it's a bit hard to imagine that this app will
become widely used. Scoring high on the risk-assessment quiz would be, I imagine, one form of encouragement for potential users. Another might be the
statistics: the National Cancer Institute estimates that there will be 2 million new diagnoses of basal and squamous
cell skin cancer in the United States this year, and 76,250 cases of melanoma, skin cancer's most dangerous form. Giving people the tools to recognize symptoms of such a
pervasive disease is a powerful use of technology.
The Institute also warns, however, that "based on fair though
unquantified evidence, visual examination of the skin in asymptomatic individuals may lead to unavoidable increases in harmful consequences." Mis- and
over-diagnosis are problems associated with over-testing for certain cancers, leading to unnecessary interventions and, at worst, to serious
complications. According to Dr. Lynn Schuchter of the University of Pennsylvania and skin cancer editor for cancer.net, early detection of basal and squamous cell skin cancer, conditions that take years to progress
and rarely metastasize, is not vital. For melanoma, on the other hand, "early detection makes all the difference in saving lives."
Screening for skin cancer is done via visual examination, and therefore does not involve expensive diagnostic imaging devices (MRI, CT and PET scanners
were identified in a
May 2012 study
as one reason for the United States' disproportionately high healthcare spending), and self-exams save doctors from having to screen patients who are
otherwise asymptomatic. But while visible, skin lesions can be extremely difficult to distinguish from numerous other, noncancerous marks and bumps, said Schuchter. If UMSkinCheck can prevent patients from going to the doctor every time an unseemly mole makes them uncomfortable and save
further testing for those who are reasonably sure they have something to worry about, then it can contribute to efforts to reform cancer screening.