Study Finds SmartPhone App Detects Skin Cancer In Older Adults

Researchers at Stanford Medicine have discovered that a smartphone app can help healthcare providers detect skin cancer among older people. The app is called SkinIO and enables regular individuals and medical professionals to take high-quality pictures of possibly cancerous tumors without entering a clinic. A dermatologist is then given access to the photos through a secure gateway for evaluation.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous restrictions were put in place in order to prevent the spread of the virus and protect those vulnerable, particularly older individuals. However, the strict protocols implemented have resulted in a decline in clinic visits leading to a significantly lower number of preventative cancer screenings. According to researchers at Stanford Medicine, 2020 saw a 23 percent decrease in the number of skin cancer diagnoses among older people than in 2019. To address this decline, researchers at Stanford Medicine turned to SkinIO to monitor patients.

To examine the app’s efficacy, the Stanford Medicine researchers conducted a study with 27 inhabitants of a senior living complex in the San Francisco Bay Area from November 2020 to July 2021.The app’s program analyzes the images, searches for skin lesions or other irregularities, and flags any that appear problematic. After reviewing the photos of the senior community, the team utilized a dermatoscope to obtain more information about the skin of high-risk individuals. The results of which indicated that 63 percent of the lesions required further attention, the majority of which were found benign. However fortunately, the app did detect cancer cells in 3 of the 27 individuals. The researchers concluded that the app is a helpful resource for detecting skin cancer, but completely trustworthy. 

“The lesion detection algorithm isn’t perfect, and there were some issues with picking up the lesions, but for a triage situation, it is a good tool” commented Kavita Sarin, associate professor of dermatology at Stanford Medicine. 

As the threat of the pandemic weigns, the number of in-person dermatology visits increase as older patients feel more safe. However, obstacles to skin care continue to exist, particularly for those with disabilities or poor health. Kavita Sarin hopes the SkinIO app will alleviate some of these challenges. ““In some cases skilled nurse facilities have to send patients to the clinic using an ambulance which can be time consuming and costly,” she comments. ” If we could send our staff to take photos of these patients, that could be incredibly helpful to these patients and a great application of this system.”

The researchers are considering the possibility of teaching elderly patients how to take their own photographs, which would drastically reduce the time invested on clinical staff training and dispatching. Furthermore, this could make it easier for dermatology teams to distribute the app to patients who are homebound or who don’t have access to a facility with a trained staff member who can assist the patient to capture the image.