Monitoring Melanoma with a Mobile

Posted on July 8, 2012 by

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Some cancers get a lot of ‘play time,’ whether due to their prevalence, or voracity, or good organization on the parts of their patients.

Somehow skin cancer, the most common type of cancer in the U.S., gets short shrift in the public eye.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t all around us, with potentially deadly consequences.

Melanoma, although not the most common,  is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and its incidence has been increasing over the past three decades.

The American Melanoma Foundation shares some astonishing statistics about the illness:

  • About 75 percent of skin cancer deaths are from melanoma.
  • One American dies of melanoma almost every hour (every 61 minutes)!!
  • Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for adolescents and young adults 15-29 years old.
  • Five-year survival rates for regional and distant stage melanomas are 65 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
  • BUT. . .The five-year survival rate for people whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 99 percent.

Thus the name of the game is early detection and treatment of melanomas.

Knowing, as we do, that the main sign of melanoma is a change in a mole or birthmark or other skin growth, it becomes essential to monitor any alterations for danger signals.

And of course–what’s that mantra, again??–there’s an app for that. For real.

Enter MelApp, available both for the iPhone and Android.

Featured  by Parade Magazine in its January, 2012 piece, “10 Apps That Could Save Your Life,” its technology is complex, but its approach simple–and, most importantly, if it works, it could indeed help save your life.

Got a mole or freckle that looks concerning? Simply do the following:

1. Use the app to take a picture of the problem area with your phone’s camera, zooming in to enlarge the image until it fits in the green box.

2. Slide the indicator bar and tap “Check Risk.” The app responds within seconds with an analysis of the possibility of the pictured growth actually being a melanoma.

This seems almost too good to be true, but the developers explain that, “MelApp uses highly sophisticated patent protected state-of-the-art mathematical algorithms and image based pattern recognition technology to analyze the uploaded image. The app was validated using an image database licensed from Johns Hopkins University Medical Center”–and apparently that does it.

A clever component of the app is that you can save your pictures in an archive, thus allowing for your own analysis of change over time.

A final nifty–if perhaps not completely necessary–piece of the app’s performance is that it will refer you to a nearby doctor, based on the location of your iPhone.

And for all this?

You fork over $1.99.

It really sounds like a dream app, and for that price I’d be willing to try it, but in the interest of fair reporting I should share the reviews on iTunes and Amazon were quite few–and less than stellar.

Perhaps most alarming was the following, on iTunes:

“ZERO stars! by Bretswife
STILL doesn’t work! I submitted a photo two months ago, app still says “in progress.” What a complete waste; do not buy!”

On Amazon the first review was: “1.0 out of 5 stars. Crashes once you actually try to take picture, March 29, 2012. By Chris (Canada): Loads up fine. But right after you hit the “Begin” button the app crashes and “force closes”. Using an Incredible. Looking on their Facebook page it seems other Droid users with different phones experience this as well. Would have been nice if it was tested beforehand.”

The developers, Health Discover Corp.,  claim their feedback has been quite different. Stephen D. Barnhill, M.D. Chairman and CEO says of the app:

“Being currently used in nearly 50 countries, and having been named one of the ‘Top 10 Apps That Could Save Your Life’ in a recent issue of Parade Magazine, MelApp has become a worldwide success. We are very proud of the fact that we continue to hear from people who have used MelApp and as a result they have made appointments with their physicians to have a proper medical examination and biopsy which led to a diagnosis of early melanoma still in the curable stage.”

They respond to the issue of the backlog in photo development, too, writing on January 22, 2012:

“Thank you for your interest in MelApp. With a great revue article we received in the press, many users tried MelApp at the same time resulting in a congestion of our server. We apologize for the delay in processing your images. We are actively working on increasing our capacity.”

Could happen, I suppose.

My thoughts?

It still sounds pretty darned good, despite some negative reviews, and its potential to alter and activate  the way we respond to changing lesions (the key to managing melanoma) is great.

I’m all for giving it a try–and making good use of it. A buck and 99 cents seems a small price to pay for what could be great peace of mind–and the possibility to prevent a life-threatening illness.