The app that ‘ likely’ saved a man's life
While awareness and vigilance are helpful, the Cancer Society cautions against placing faith in online detection of risks
Barry Joblin’s father died from melanoma. He believes if it wasn’t for a smartphone app, his fate could have been the same.
The 62- year- old Whangarei grandfather had downloaded the SkinVision app after hearing about it on the radio. He used it to check a number of suspicious- looking moles and all came back clear.
But towards the end of last year, his wife encouraged him to scan a growth which had come up on his forearm.
“It didn’t look like a melanoma. It looked more like a pimple. It was white and pink, rather than a dark colour,” he said.
“They talk about the description of a melanoma being a raised, irregular border, dark and growing quickly.”
But when he took a photo of the lump using the app, it came back as high- risk and told him he should see his doctor.
Joblin didn’t get around to doing anything about it until he got a reminder email from SkinVision a couple of weeks later asking if he had been to see a doctor yet. It was that email which prompted him to make an appointment.
The doctor thought it was viral and gave Joblin ointment to use for two weeks.
Eight weeks later nothing had changed so the father- of- four and grandfather to 10 went back to the doctor. This time he was told it was an easily treatable basal cell carcinoma and a biopsy was suggested. Joblin asked them to remove the whole thing.
A few days later, just before Christmas, Joblin got a call to tell him the lump was, in fact, melanoma.
By December 27 he was in Auckland for more tests and an operation to remove more tissue and the nearby lymph nodes.
He admitted the app had “very likely” saved his life.
“I think I wouldn’t have paid much attention to it.”
SkinVision chief executive Erik de Heus said he was delighted to help Joblin get diagnosed early.
“Whilst public knowledge of skin cancer is on the rise, New Zealanders are still limited by the number of dermatologists, the huge distances inherent in the country and everexpanding waiting lists.”
New Zealand’s skin cancer rates are among the highest in the world. It’s the most common cause of cancer in the country and killed 486 Kiwis in 2012.
Skin cancer is largely preventable with more than 90 per cent of all cases attributed to excess sun exposure.
Cancer Society of New Zealand medical director Dr Chris Jackson said apps could be useful for awareness but could not be relied on for a diagnosis.
“A skin specialist with the right equipment is still better than an app for the detection of skin cancer. No doctor would rely on an app to be certain that a skin lesion was not a cancer,” he said.
“We do not recommend general population screening for skin cancers ( eg mole map photography) or using apps to diagnose cancer because of a lack of evidence of effectiveness. The most obvious risk with using an app is the risk of a misdiagnosis and the chance of that happening is a lot greater than a human giving an incorrect diagnosis.”
He said everyone should regularly check all areas of their skin for any change in the shape, colour or size of a lesion.
Whangarei man Barry Joblin used a cellphone app to identify a potentially fatal melanoma.