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

Weekend Herald - - News - Amy Wig­gins

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.

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