A new device and app are taking photo-sharing to a new, potentially life-saving, level.

The MoleScope and UV Canada app, developed by Vancouver scientist Maryam Sadeghi, are designed to help Canadians identify skin cancer early. The technology is used to capture and record photos of potentially-cancerous moles and then share these images with medical specialists using cloud-based technology.

Sadeghi says 70 per cent of skin cancers are initially detected by patients themselves or by their family members, and she was inspired to give them better tools to do that.

“The idea was to provide patients with a high quality imaging device and access to specialists,” Sadeghi told CTV’s Canada AM on Monday.

The MoleScope attachment is modelled after the microscopes used by specialists when examining moles that may be cancerous. It can detect and photograph changes in moles that are not visible to the naked eye. Using the app, patients can share these images with doctors and receive virtual feedback, saving excess trips to the doctors’ office.

“Patients will be able to track their moles closely. Say, if they see any changes over time, then the MoleScope app can connect them with their doctors. And also doctors can have a look at the patients’ history,” said Sadeghi.

There’s a prevention aspect to the app, which offers information on weather and UV warnings, and can help users determine how long they can safely be in the sun by taking into account skin colour and sunscreen type.

The UV Canada app is already available for free download for Apple and Android phones. So far there have been 48,000 downloads in Canada, including young and teenage users.

The MoleScope attachment is currently in a trial stage and awaiting ethical approval, but it is expected to be released in late summer or early fall. It is already available online for pre-order online, costing $100 for advance purchases.

Early detection can be important in saving lives. Skin cancer is prevalent in Canada, with one out of every seven Canadians developing the disease in their lifetime. If detected early, survival rates are 98 per cent. However, this number is reduced to 16 per cent if the cancer is discovered late.

In the current system, patients normally report abnormal moles to their family doctors or to general practitioners. However, because of differences in technology and training, these doctors are unable to diagnose skin cancer, and must refer patients to specialists.

The wait to see a specialist can be four to eight months, or even up to two years. A cancerous mole can grow exponentially in this time and could become life threatening. “If it’s a suspicious mole, if it’s going to be cancer, it’s a lot of time,” said Sadeghi.

The costs of treating cancers that have had time to advance are high. Taking into account work leave, mental and healthcare, it can cost about $150,000 to treat somebody with melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. This cost can be prevented or reduced by detecting cancerous moles early and removing them.

The MoleScope and UV Canada app are expected to shorten the process by allowing patients to track growth and abnormalities at home, reducing wait times to see a specialist.

Sadeghi said the technology is part of the digitalization of health care records, a process she predicts will be increase in popularity in the next five years.

“Everything is going online and I think dermatology is the best place to start,” she said. “It’s all about visual inflection and online apps like this can track health and help.”