Skin cancer is a serious problem in Australia. It’s easy to find frightening statistics and strong efforts from various organisations to prevent and treat it. With some early treatment options but no cure, prevention and early detection are really your best survival tools. Like everything else in our modern lives, there’s an app for that.
We reviewed the top 5 skin cancer apps available in Australia and spoke to our skin cancer doctor, Dr Ahmad Sayed for his professional opinion on whether they hold any weight.
The SunSmart app was developed by the Cancer Council of Victoria and the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation as part of their SunSmart program to “reduce skin cancer incidence, morbidity and mortality” 1
It’s geared toward helping you develop healthy sun habits. It recommends how much sunscreen you should wear (based on your clothing and activity) and you can set a reminder to reapply.
The app’s most notable feature is the UV radiation index that tells you the current UV levels and the maximum predicted level for the day. The information comes from the Bureau of Meteorology and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), and it’s easy to use. If the UV levels are higher than 3, seek shade and slip slop slap.
We saw one app store review that said the app had different information from ARPANSA, so we tracked it ourselves for five days, looking at different times of day as well as the maximum daily forecast. The SunSmart app slightly overestimated the maximum daily forecast, which, in the name of safety, is better than underestimating. The UV levels at specific times were mostly accurate but there was one instance when the UV level in the app was too low (Wednesday at 10:00am).
|Monday 12:00pm||Tuesday 3:40pm||Wednesday 10:00am||Wednesday 12:00pm||Thursday 5:00pm||Friday 9:00am|
Maximum Daily UV Forecast:
First Check is an app that lets you photograph a mole and/or send it to a doctor for a professional opinion. The app itself and photography features are free, and then there’s a consultation fee of $19.95 if you send the photo to a doctor.
You can also purchase a “SkinScope” which is a little magnifier attachment for your camera lens to get a closer picture of your lesion or mole. When you send your photos off, you can also fill out a questionnaire about your risk factors and history.
When Dr Ahmad records a photo of a lesion, he takes three specific photos with a dermatoscope. One photo has a ruler imposed onto it to demonstrate size of the lesion, another is taken in high definition and the final one is non-polarised. This gives the doctor more thorough information on which to base opinions and follow ups.
This does not necessarily mean that the First Check app isn’t useful, but that you might get more accurate information with professional photos, or with a doctor in person.
Miiskin is a fairly comprehensive app that focusses on prevention and mole-tracking. You can take a photo of any new spots or moles and mark where they are on the body. You can also add notes to a photo and set a reminder to take a photo again at a later date.
You can take a second photo of a mole and save it with the first photo. You can add more notes and view them side by side to see if there have been any changes.
The Miiskin app also provides information about melanoma, risk factors and what to look for when doing your at-home check. We appreciated how honest the developers were when the information in the app stated very clearly that a smartphone app cannot diagnose skin cancer. It can help you with at-home checks, and it can help you track moles and lesions so that you can tell your doctor about any changes, or catch changes sooner for an earlier diagnosis.
The app isn’t free, it costs $3.49 per month or $34.99 for a full year, but they also offer a free trial. We found it to be helpful with our at-home checks and very easy to use.
In Dr Ahmad’s opinion, “it’s a good start, but you should still come in and get your skin checked. At home checks are important, but they shouldn’t substitute a doctor’s review.”
When doing an at-home check, Dr Ahmad recommends looking for any change, such as flaking, building itching or change in colour and size. If you think there’s been a change, go and see a doctor. It’s better to see someone about a benign spot than to wait and risk advanced melanoma.
This app was developed by the University of Michigan in America and it’s free to download and use. It’s similar to the Miiskin app in the sense that it’s meant to help you do an at-home check, take photos and track your spots and moles.
It has a guided self-check feature and a feature that enables you to take a photo of a lesion, note where it is on the body and save it with a date. You can go back at a later date and add a photo to the record to compare photos and look for changes.
When you take a photo, there’s an option to answer questions about the mole, and it will recommend whether you should see a doctor or just continue to track the mole. The questions are based on standard guidelines on what to look for; asymmetry, irregular borders, colour, change and more. This is meant as a helpful guide, but if you’re unsure, you should see a doctor regardless, just to be safe.
One feature we liked was that you can export your photos and notes to an email if you wanted to.
It also has a few pages of helpful information that appears to be accurate, “this is exactly what I tell my patients,” Dr Ahmad says of the sunscreen info, “except I add a bit about using a physical barrier sunscreen with zinc and titanium dioxide.”
Overall, the doctor’s conclusion was that this app is another good start, the University of Michigan’s medical program has an excellent reputation, but it’s important to remember that it’s a helpful guide. An app should not substitute a doctor’s review.
The Mole Monitor app also enables you to track moles. It has the same features in which you can photograph moles, record their location and add notes. It’s a free app, but you can purchase upgrades with extra imaging features.
You can view your mole images side by side (with the other apps, you have to swipe between the photos). There is also an overlay feature to help you compare mole size, but it is not as accurate as a doctor’s image with a ruler imposed upon it.
Like the Miiskin app, you can export photos of your mole to email, but with an added benefit. You can answer questions about your risk factors (family history, personal history of sunburns) and the app generates a pdf report with your risk factors, photos and notes. You can email it to yourself or to your doctor’s office before your appointment.
Overall, the features are great, but the app itself is not as user-friendly as the other mole-tracking apps. The camera requires you to hold the phone at a certain distance from your skin, wait for a circle to appear on the screen, and then pull the phone back before it will take a photo. The idea is to improve image capture, but we had to try multiple times to get a single image, and the images were not any better than the other apps. It also has regular pop-ups promoting the upgrade features, which got a little annoying when we tried to capture images.
We brought our exported reports to Dr Ahmad for an opinion. He said that the macroscopic monitoring is just not there, “I could not comment on that photo.”
In conclusion, we found the SunSmart app to be reliable and helpful with trustworthy information, a UV index and sunscreen application reminders.
Miiskin was our favourite mole-tracking app for information, features and ease of use. If you don’t want to pay for your mole-tracking app, then the UMSkinCheck app was a very close second choice.
Overall, we’ve come to agree with our skin cancer doctor, Dr Ahmad, that the mole-tracking apps can be a really good tool for your at-home self-checks, but none of the apps we reviewed were suitable enough to replace an in-person assessment by a doctor with a dermascope. When in doubt, book an appointment.