The Quantified Self movement—or using technology to analyze both physical and mental aspects of our daily lives—has gone mainstream. More and more, people are discovering and sharing health facts and stats (such as sleeping patterns and heart rate) using their smart devices. Now, a new app called Mole Mapper goes a step further by enabling patients to document and even assess the health of their skin using the camera on their iPhone. The app tracks changes in mole size and appearance the same way a dermatologist would with the goal of stopping melanoma—the most deadly form of skin cancer—in its tracks.

Mole Mapper is a collaboration between Oregon Health and Science University’s department of dermatology as well as Apple’s Health Research Kit. It was inspired by the personal story of one of its developers, cancer researcher Dan Webster, whose wife is at high risk of melanoma. In addition to helping individuals stay on top of their own skin health, the app also seeks to aggregate information that will help researchers in their quest to further understand the disease. “The accumulation of potentially millions of consumer mole pics over time has the potential to identify melanoma early on,” James Kean, a health and technology advisor involved in the project, tells LivingHealthy. “The benefit of that could be a vastly improved survival rate.”

To use Mole Mapper, you sign up for an account then let the app guide you through the process of documenting your moles. There are 38 templates that help you line up different body areas with your phone’s camera so you don’t miss a spot. Once you establish a baseline series of shots, the app will be able to compare future photos with the baselines to ensure moles haven’t grown (and alert you if they do). You can set a reminder to reshoot your moles every six months, and the app even contains a place to collect information gleaned at doctor’s visits.

The app is brand new, so there’s no data yet on how well it works, but doctors are hopeful that it might take away some of the anxiety that comes from presenting one’s buck-naked self to the dermatologist every six months. Once the mole-checking process becomes normalized by the app, people may be more comfortable visiting the clinic.

According to Kean, apps like Mole Mapper represent a shift away from the "centralized collection of information and distribution of health care” to a place where consumers can collaborate remotely with healthcare providers and take more control when it comes to managing their own health.

"[The Quantified Self movement] started with more lightweight applications like footstep tracking,” says Kean, but it is "increasingly moving into highly sophisticated life sciences and health domains. The net result of this trend will be to make the management of human health timely, responsive and nimble." 


Sources:

  1. Fortune: New Apple ResearchKit trials focus on epilepsy, autism and skin cancer
  2. Sage Bionetworks
  3. Morningstar Research: Sage Bionetworks Launches Mole Mapper, an iPhone-app Research Study to Better Understand Melanoma