UT students create app to detect skin cancer at home

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KXAN – AUSTIN (KXAN) — Every hour, someone in the United States dies from skin cancer.

It's a scary statistic, one that students at the University of Texas at Austin are trying to lower.

Rachel Graubard created an app that asks questions about suspicious moles. It then calculates the probability of it being skin cancer.

She's already seen it work for someone she loves.

"My grandfather actually was just diagnosed with melanoma, so we actually did this quiz on him," said Graubard. "He ended up having, I think it was an 85 percent chance based on the questions that were on here. He then went to the doctor, got a biopsy, got a confirmed diagnosis and now he's having it removed."

The app also stores pictures of your moles, so you can check for changes over time.

"Skin cancers have definite signs that can distinguish them from normal lesions that are nothing to worry about," said Graubard. She's working towards becoming a dermatologist. "The unfortunate reality is dermatologists more than any kind of physician will have to tell patients they have skin cancer, because skin cancer is so prevalent."

Another skin cancer app helps document the self-examination, and reminds you to do it again in 30 days.

"It's easy to use, and it can store all of the information," said Vatal Shah, who created the app. "As a human being, I can try to remember what I did a year ago, but if I have any disease or moles, I don't think I can remember what happened a year ago."

The students created their apps in the DIY Diagnostics Lab at UT Austin, led by Tim Riedel.

It's part of the Freshman Research Initiative, a program that teaches students science through independent research experiences. Students are able to become part of the do-it-yourself (DIY) health diagnostics revolution.

While it's never good to leave your health solely in the hands of an app, we talked to one dermatologist who said he approves of using the apps in conjunction with real medical care.

"Melanomas can literally show up from one patient visit to the next and usually we see patients once a year," said Dr. Daniel Carrasco, with Austin Dermatology Associates. "So seeing it once a month, at least if an app offers that opportunity, would be fantastic because moles can change, especially melanomas which are exceptionally deadly."

Dr. Carrasco says a lot of the time, melanomas are first spotted by patients, who then come in to get examined.

As for the apps, they are currently available online through your web browser. Students hope to one day get them on phone apps as well.