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03
January 2017

Detect skin cancer with your smartphone

Your smartphone’s camera is useful in so many different ways. You depend on it for Instagram, Facetime … and identifying skin cancer?

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and is expected to cause more than 10,000 deaths in the U.S. alone in 2016. Researchers are under pressure to find a new way to stop the deadly disease in the earliest stages. That’s where that your iPhone camera can help, according to new research from IBM!

In this post, Dr. Noel Codella, Cognitive Computing & Computer Vision Scientist, explains a new way of identifying markers of melanoma by skin image analysis.

The methodology for home diagnosis by your smartphone is relatively simple according to Codella. When someone finds a questionable spot on their skin, they use their handset’s camera to take a picture of the lesion and submit the image to be assessed by an analytics service, which can recognize and reliably identify the characteristics of disease.

The key to the success of this project hinges on two innovations. The first is the use of Dermascopes, which are devices that can be attached to smartphone cameras to optimize photos of lesions for analysis. The second factor is the development of a huge database of images of cancerous skin spots. This database is accessed using IBM’s machine learning, computer vision and cloud computing capabilities to identify cases of melanoma through technology.

This work is not 100% accurate yet, but it illustrates amazing innovation in healthcare technology and our basic daily devices!
Melanoma facts

  • One person dies of melanoma every hour (every 52 minutes)
  • An estimated 76,380 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2016
  • An estimated 10,130 people will die of melanoma in 2016
  • Melanoma accounts for less than one percent of skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths
  • The vast majority of melanomas are caused by the sun. In fact, one UK study found that about 86 percent of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun
  • The estimated 5-year survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early is about 98 percent in the U.S. The survival rate falls to 63 percent when the disease reaches the lymph nodes, and 17 percent when the disease metastasizes to distant organs
  • On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns
  • Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40 percent16 and the risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent
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