This New App Lets You Screen for Cancer With a Selfie

Selfies—you either love ‘em or you hate ‘em. However you feel about this modern photography trend, there is no doubt that industries are looking into how to utilize its popularity for the greater good. In fact, researchers are examining ways to turn the selfie into an instrument to screen for certain cancers. That’s right: what is used to share the news of a new haircut on social media today could be a game-changing diagnostic tool for deadly illnesses tomorrow.

A paper, to be presented this month at Ubicomp 2017, by researchers at the University of Washington details how the selfie could significantly improve early detection for pancreatic cancer, an illness with a dismally low five-year survival rate. Early detection is difficult because many of the symptoms do not appear until the later stages of the disease, which can drop the percentage of people who survive five years past diagnosis into the single digits. One symptom is the skin becoming jaundiced, or taking on a yellow hue due to a build-up of bilirubin in the blood.

The skin is not the only tissue that becomes yellowed because of this build-up—the sclera, or white part of the eyes, can also become discolored. In the early stages of the disease, the naked eye cannot detect these color shifts, but a computer can. This is where the selfie comes into play.

“The eyes are a really interesting gateway into the body—tears can tell you how much glucose you have, sclera can tell you how much bilirubin is in your blood,” senior study author Shwetak Patel, the Washington Research Foundation Entrepreneurship Endowed Professor in Computer Science & Engineering and Electrical Engineering, told Science Daily. “Our question was: Could we capture some of these changes that might lead to earlier detection with a selfie?”

Early research says it can. The BiliScreen app was the center of a 70-person clinical study where participants took photos of their eyes using the software, with the help of a tool that controlled their exposure to light. The app was able to correctly identify “cases of concern” 89.7 percent of the time.

The vision for the future is being able to offer a tool that people can use at any time and without access to a healthcare professional. The BiliScreen app utilizes smartphones’ abilities to snap a photo and, with the help of special paper glasses and a cardboard, light-balancing attachment, could provide people with an early screening tool before they can see problems starting with their own eyes. This kind of early detection is essential for patients with pancreatic cancer and can drastically improve survival rates.

The developers of the app say there is another round of testing forthcoming before the app will become available for diagnostic use. One day it should be available to anyone with a smartphone. Lead author and doctoral student at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering Alex Mariakakis says, “The hope is that if people can do this simple test once a month—in the privacy of their own homes—some might catch the disease early enough to undergo treatment that could save their lives.”

Related:
What to Say to a Friend With Cancer
The Vitamin That Targets and Kills Cancer Stem Cells
10 Powerful Cancer Fighting Herbs

Photo credit: Thinkstock

56 comments

Jerome S
Jerome S1 months ago

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Jerome S
Jerome S1 months ago

thanks

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Mike R
Mike R2 months ago

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Mike R
Mike R2 months ago

ty

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Mike R
Mike R2 months ago

ty

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Carl R
Carl R3 months ago

Thanks!!!

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Janis K
Janis K3 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Kay M
Kay M3 months ago

why not.

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