Online skin cancer screening: How it works and what to expect
Skin cancer screening involves examining your skin for possible signs of skin cancer. This is immensely helpful in diagnosing skin cancer at its early stages before most of the general symptoms of cancer develop. This is an achievable goal because most skin cancers present with visible skin lesions or skin changes that can be detected easily. The earlier you can identify skin cancer, the higher the chances of recovery because early diagnosis opens the pathway to a higher number of treatment options. Online skin cancer screening platforms make it possible to have this screening process done in a faster, easier and more convenient manner, in the comfort of your home.
Skin cancer is a major medical concern because of its high prevalence. According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the US.1 The number of new cases identified every day is as high as 9500, and every hour more than two people die because of it.2 Also, research evidence shows that at least one in every five Americans will get skin cancer by the age of 70.3 There are numerous risk factors, including exposure to ultraviolet radiation, immune suppression, fair skin, ethnicity, medication and genetic predisposition.
How to use online skin cancer screening apps or websites
There are two major types of online skin cancer screening methods that are being used nowadays. It could either be a fully automated AI system or it could involve medical professionals to provide their expert opinion on possible conditions your skin lesion can turn out to be. In both methods, first you will be asked to upload a clear picture of the suspected skin lesion. Next, they would ask for a description of the lesion, including data such as its size, color, duration and any changes noticed with time. Some platforms may also require basic demographic data such as gender, age, country or area of residence.
How does online skin cancer screening work?
In fully automated systems, the image you upload will be compared with a preexisting database of pictures of skin lesions, thereby predicting the most probable condition you might have.
In the second method, medical professionals will analyze the images and the data that you provide and conclude whether the lesion is likely to be cancer or not. They would suggest further evaluation, immediate visit to a dermatologist or simply careful monitoring of the skin lesion for changes according to the conclusion they arrive at. First Derm free online skin cancer screening platform is an example of such a platform. This way is comparatively more reliable than fully automated AI systems.
Why is it important?
Teledermatology has taken an increasingly prominent role in the health care system because of the numerous benefits it has. Its efficacy as a triage system is especially highlighted.4 One major benefit of online platforms is the ability to consult medical experts despite geographic limitations. People living in rural areas without proper medical care can seek medical opinions via online platforms. And most of the time you can get the service without revealing your identity. All facts considered; it is a very patient friendly method to provide quality health care service to the public.
It is very helpful in early diagnosis because you can simply upload an image the moment you notice an abnormality in your skin. It is more convenient than clearing time for a visit to the dermatologist from your busy schedule. The online platform will urgently prompt you to visit your doctor if the lesion looks cancerous and needs immediate intervention.
What to expect from online skin cancer screening results and recommendations
The results you get from online screening might not be 100% accurate. Several research projects have been conducted to assess the accuracy of such online platforms by comparing the outcomes of face-to-face diagnosis and diagnosis made using teledermatology. Tan et al. present promising results with only a 12.3% disparity between the outcomes of the two modes used.5 However, there is research evidence showing low compatibility between the two methods as well.6
Inevitably, there are many limitations to online skin cancer screening. A real physical examination of a skin lesion is likely to provide more information than a picture of it can. Therefore, it is necessary to stick to the follow-up actions and referrals, regardless of the most probable diagnosis suggested by the online platform. For example, if it suggests the lesion is most likely to be non-cancerous, but suggests further examination by a dermatologist, you should visit your dermatologist to confirm the diagnosis.
Skin cancer is a major problem in most parts of the world including the US, with high mortality and morbidity rates. Therefore, new methods are necessary for early diagnosis and to direct patients with suspicious skin lesions to dermatologists fast.
Online skin cancer screening platforms are ideal for this task. Especially as a triage tool, they have the potential to revolutionize the delivery of healthcare in dermatology. It is important to be aware of both benefits and drawbacks of online screening and strictly adhere to the follow-up actions and referrals they suggest.
Further research is required to assess the accuracy of the suggestions given by these platforms.
- Cancer Facts and Figures 2023. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/annual-cancer-facts-and-figures/2023/2023-cancer-facts-and-figures.pdf.
- Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics – The Skin Cancer Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved May 3, 2023, from https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts/
- Stern, RS. Prevalence of a history of skin cancer in 2007: results of an incidence-based model. Arch Dermatol 2010; 146(3):279-282.
- Fabbrocini, G., de Vita, V., Pastore, F., D’Arco, V., Mazzella, C., Annunziata, M. C., Cacciapuoti, S., Mauriello, M. C., & Monfrecola, A. (2011). Teledermatology: from prevention to diagnosis of nonmelanoma and melanoma skin cancer. International Journal of Telemedicine and Applications, 2011. https://doi.org/10.1155/2011/125762
- E. Tan, A. Yung, M. Jameson, A. Oakley, and M. Rademaker,“Successful triage of patients referred to a skin lesion clinicusing teledermoscopy (IMAGE IT trial),”British Journal ofDermatology, vol. 162, no. 4, pp. 803–811, 2010.
- Piccoli, M. F., Amorim, B. D. B., Wagner, H. M., & Nunes, D. H. (2015). Teledermatology protocol for screening of skin cancer. Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia, 90(2), 202–210. https://doi.org/10.1590/ABD1806-4841.20153163
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The Specialist doctor from the University Hospital in Gothenburg, alumnus UC Berkeley. My doctoral dissertation is about Digital Health and I have published 5 scientific articles in teledermatology and artificial intelligence and others.