Skin Cancer Screening Is Needed Now More Than Ever

Doctor Hong and doctor Chan reviewing patient photos.
by Richard Pietro
Dec 1, 2020

recent report by the Toronto Star has exposed how the Coronavirus is affecting cancer care in Ontario.

Their report states that there is a “sharp rise in the number of people coming to hospitals with advanced cancers” due to doctors prioritizing more serious cases, people avoiding medical centres, and the postponement of screening programs for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers.

What the report does not mention is that this also applies for skin cancer.“Skin cancer is routinely neglected as a major threat to a person’s wellbeing” says Dr. Colin Hong, a Plastic and Reconstructive surgeon in Toronto and co-founder of Skinopathy – a soon-to-be launched application that will uses AI technology to screen for skin cancer. “Most forms of skin cancer probably won’t kill you, but many can lead to serious complications such as disfigurement, bleeding, and infections.”

Dr. Hong confirmed that due to the closure and reduced access to healthcare facilities in the spring of 2020, his clinic has seen in influx of advanced skin cancer cases.

Skin cancer is actually more prevalent than people think. The Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation states that skin cancer cases outnumber lung, breast, prostate, and colon cancers combined. To make matters even more unsettling, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada skin cancer has been on the rise for the last 30 years and had an economic burden of 2 billion dollars in 2010.

Doctors will tell you the best way to prevent skin cancer is through regular use of sunscreen and covering your skin. However, much like how your dentist tells you to floss regularly, most people tend to ignore that advice. Meanwhile, there are some people who are genetically predisposed to skin cancer, which makes screening even more important.

There are three main forms of skin cancer, including Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Each have their own presentation and complications. For example, carcinomas usually present on a person’s face and neck and are notorious for bleeding, causing irritation, and can even be painful at times.  Melanomas, conversely, are more like an iceberg: What you see on the surface is not necessarily what you see below, and because they can spread to other organs they can be just as deadly.

“While most people are concerned with how large skin cancer appears, physicians are more concerned with its depth,” says Dr. Chan, Chief Operations Officer of Skinopathy. “Sometimes one millimetre of depth is the difference between a simple excision at the clinic to a full blown cancer treatment plan.”

The typical process to have yourself checked out is by first visiting your family physician. Then your family physician will refer you to a dermatologist who might even need to refer you to a Plastic, General, Oncological, Mohs or Reconstructive surgeon. All these appointments take time, and skin cancers can grow quickly.

Doctor Hong and doctor Chan reviewing patient photos.
Dr Colin Hong and Dr. Hannah Chan

Unfortunately, skin cancers cannot be officially diagnosed until tests and biopsies are taken. That means anything that presents as an irregular skin formation, such as growths and moles, are often treated as skin cancer for precautionary measures. This is a very resource intensive process, and coupled with rising number of cases, the coronavirus, and an already strained healthcare system, you suddenly have the perfect storm for a skin cancer crisis.

“I had my own skin cancer scare,” says Keith Loo, co-founder of Skinopathy and Entrepreneurship Instructor at the Schulich School of Business, York University. “I quite literally met Dr. Hong in the operating room, and we got to talking about skin cancer and how technology might be able to help save lives.”

And this is where Skinopathy comes in. The app is geared to help people quickly and reliably screen for possible skin cancer – and other skin lesions – before they become a problem.

Skinopathy uses cutting-edge AI technology to relieve the strain on the healthcare system and streamline the process for patients. A simple click of your blemish, spot, or mole and you will be connected with a Dermatologist or Plastic surgeon within 24 hours – and it is all OHIP covered.

This sounds obvious, but what make this technology a perfect use-case for skin cancer is that, unlike breast cancer, colon cancer, or lymphomas, you can actually see potential cancers on your skin. And because of that, a phone camera is a great first step in diagnosing the process. As a matter of fact, patients will regularly email pictures of potential skin cancers to Dr. Hong’s office who then is able to prioritize the severity of the case.

Skinopathy is streamlining that process making it more efficient for doctors. The security measures taken will also help protect patient’s privacy.

In the Toronto Star report, Dr. Roberta Minna warned that “We are going to see collateral damage in the next year or two related to [breast, colon, and colorectal cancer].”

Unfortunately, the same appears to be true for skin cancer.

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