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Skin Cancer Diagnosis – There’s Not an App for That, FTC Says

Posted on March 13, 2015 by Kelly Wolford
checking melanoma on back

Instead of asking your doctor to assess your risk of skin cancer, you can simply pay between $2 and $5 for an app that will do the same. Does that sound too good to be true? Yes, according to federal regulators.

On February 25, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it reached agreements with the marketers of two “melanoma detection” apps that will bar them from making “unsupported claims” about the apps’ ability to detect a person’s risk of skin cancer.

“Truth in advertising laws apply in the mobile marketplace,” the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Jessica Rich, said in a released statement. “App developers and marketers must have scientific evidence to support any health or disease claims that they make for their apps.”

As this situation illustrates, it is always best to go to your doctor or visit a specialist to be screened for cancer or to seek a diagnosis after you have experienced symptoms of cancer.

While smartphone apps can be entertaining and highly useful in many situations, you do not want to rely on an app for something as serious as a cancer diagnosis. If you go to the doctor and do not agree with your doctor’s diagnosis, you can always seek a second or third opinion.

And if you believe your doctor has misdiagnosed your cancer risk, you can (and should) get legal help right away in order to protect your rights.

FTC Settles with Companies Behind MelApp, Mole Detective

The FTC’s recent action involved two apps:

  • MelApp, marketed by Health Discovery Corporation since 2011 for a price of $1.99; and
  • Mole Detective, first marketed by New Consumer Solutions LLC in 2012 for a price of $4.99 (and marketed since August 2012 by a United Kingdom-based company, L Health Ltd.).

According to the FTC, users of the apps were told to take photos of moles using their smartphone and to enter other information. Based on this data, the app would purportedly assess whether the mole presented a high, medium or low risk of melanoma.

The FTC filed complaints against the companies, alleging that they “lacked adequate evidence” to support their claims. The FTC sought to bar the companies from marketing the apps.

As the FTC announced, their complaints against the companies resulted in settlements. The companies who settled must pay back a combined $21,893, and they are barred from making any “misleading or unsubstantiated claims” about the apps’ benefits and efficacy in the future. (One company, L Health Ltd., did not settle.)

These types of apps have been an ongoing concern of the FTC and many in the medical community. As NPR reported in 2013, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center tested four “melanoma detection” apps.

The researchers used the apps to screen for melanoma in 188 moles, including 60 that were confirmed as being cancerous. While dermatologists correctly identified melanoma at a rate of 98 percent, the apps had only a 70 percent success rate.

Screenings Available for Skin Cancer

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) states that 1 in 5 people in the U.S. are impacted by skin cancer each year, including melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and actinic keratoses. If skin cancer is diagnosed and treated in a timely manner, however, the chances of survival are very high, the AAD states.

As the AAD points out, routine screenings for skin cancer are often free and take only about 10 minutes to complete. It consists of a visual inspection by a trained medical professional and requires no blood tests.

If a doctor identifies a suspect mole or patch of skin, the doctor may then ask to remove it wholly or partially and send it to a lab for testing. This is called a biopsy.

While this may not be as easy or as cheap as using a smartphone, this testing and diagnosis is well worth the benefit to your health and your future.