Medical Marvels

A Portland-Made Mole Mapping App Is Helping the Fight Against Skin Cancer

A researcher made an app to protect his wife from skin cancer. Now, OHSU is using it as a weapon in its ‘War on Melanoma.’

By Mark Fogerson December 31, 2019 Published in the January 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Michael Novak

Whether you’re walking, sleeping, or just breathing, in the era of Big Data there’s an app that can chart your progress in the name of health. While some of this info sharing has raised concerns about privacy, a free app that scrutinizes your body for developing skin cancer makes data sharing part of its mission: helping OHSU’s “War on Melanoma” project by crowdsourcing the large datasets needed to someday make online diagnosis a reality. Oregon has the sixth-highest incidence in the US of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

Seattle-based cancer researcher Dan Webster originally conceived the iPhone app MoleMapper to help his wife keep track of suspicious moles between dermatologist visits. Since 2015, it’s become a key tool in the ongoing fight against skin cancer, allowing researchers to access photos from users who have opted to share them to improve online diagnoses and better understand the condition. So far, more than 7,500 users have downloaded the app and enrolled in the study, sharing more than 25,000 mole measurements.

Developed with OHSU, Apple, and Sage Bionetworks, the app directs users to photograph moles, using a coin for size comparison, and reminds them when it’s time to take new photographs to check for changes. In addition to helping distant researchers, users can look for changes themselves or show the images to their doctor. We’ve made a great start in getting people to use MoleMapper,” says Dr. Sancy Leachman, the director of OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s Melanoma Research Program.But we recognize this journey is a marathon, not a sprint.

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