For most of us, it’s often what we don’t see that may be cause for alarm, but a new tool takes the pressure off the patient – and gives doctors a direct line of sight to your skin.
Called SkinIO, the app is the brainchild of Dr. J.C. Lapiere, who has devoted his life to treating skin cancers. Since the worst spots often show up in places patients can't see, he found a way to shine a light on dark spots. Using SkinIO, doctors find everything from basal and squamous cell carcinomas to deadly melanomas.
It begins with a set of photos, an algorithm, a team of experienced doctors and an alert system to help reveal what people cannot see.
"Being a child and young adult, i certainly didn’t do myself any favors. I put on the baby oil, i occasionally went to tanning beds. I’m certainly regretting those choices now,” said Carin Fanter, skin cancer patient.
Now, Fanter tries to live the healthiest life possible, staying fit and strong. But the damage to her skin has been more difficult to manage.
"Most of my moles and freckles are on my back, so that is a real challenge, and i feel helpless because i can’t see what’s going on back there. It’s something that’s constantly in the back of my mind,” Fanter said.
Since her early 20s, she’s had close to two dozen moles removed. Most were benign. But in early 2016, one stood out.
"I got a phone call from my dermatologist, and she said this is an early melanoma and we need to get this off. They went very deep and around the mole and the cells around it were thankfully clear. Thank goodness i was able to get that removed in a timely way, and that we caught it,” Fanter said.
"There is some genetic susceptibility, but the number one risk factor is sun exposures,” Dr. Lapiere said.
Dr. Lapiere devotes his entire dermatology practice to treating skin cancer patients. He sees it all -- from basal and squamous cell carcinomas, the more common and often more easily treated forms of skin cancer, to deadly melanomas.
"Melanoma survival rate is extremely good if you catch it stage 0 or stage 1a. But you have to look for it, and if you don’t look for it you’re not going to find it,” said Dr. Lapiere.
That’s because spotting suspicious lesions can pose a challenge – often melanomas pop up on the back of the leg or upper back.
"But for a lot of people they have a lot of spots on their skin, and it’s difficult to keep track of it. And if you only check your skin once a month you don’t get a visual memory,” Lapiere said.
That’s where SkinIO comes in. Dr. Lapiere helped develop the app with technology expert and co-founder Kyoko Crawford. Subscribers start the process by taking a set of photos to establish a baseline of their skins’ characteristics, including moles, spots and growths.
"Our algorithm automatically detects all the spots and lesions in the photo,” Crawford said.
The pictures can be taken by a spouse or close friend, and an iPhone or iPad will do. Then, each month users are prompted to send in a fresh set. The software circles the spots for human eyes to see. Then SkinIO relies on a network of licensed dermatologists to compare and review the images.
"The quality of cameras in iPads or iPhones have gotten so good that I’m definitely able to zoom in a lot and get good comparisons, especially if the patients are using a well-lit background,” said Dr. Erika Hagstrom, a SkinIO dermatologist.
"The point of our system is not to diagnose anything on your skin. It’s really about detecting change,” Crawford said.
If a change is detected, subscribers receive a special alert.
"If it’s red, it means our team of dermatologists have reviewed your photos and they found a real change or a new spot that needs to be looked at in person by a dermatologist,” Crawford said.
Carin Fanter says she recently signed and submitted her first set of photos.
"It feels like another tool in my healthcare toolbox that I can use because I certainly want to take charge when I can. So it empowers me to do that a little bit, and it gives me a chance to have a conversation with my dermatologist or it pushes me to make sure I make that appointment," Fanter said.
The cost for the app is about $10 a month or $100 for the year. There are similar apps out there, but the developers of SkinIO want to focus on the entire body, not just certain areas or spots. You can find out more at skinIO.com.