Barry Joblin's father died from melanoma. He believes if it wasn't for a smartphone app, his fate could have been the same.

The 62-year-old Whangarei grandfather had downloaded the SkinVision app after hearing about it on the radio. He used it to check a number of suspicious looking moles and all came back clear.

But towards the end of last year his wife encouraged him to scan a growth which had come up on his forearm.

"It didn't look like a melanoma. It looked more like a pimple. It was white and pink rather than a dark colour," he said.

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"They talk about the description of a melanoma being a raised, irregular border, dark and growing quickly."

But when he took a photo of the lump using the app it came back as high risk and told him he should see his doctor.

Whangarei man Barry Joblin used a cell phone app to identify a potentially fatal melanoma. He displays the scar where it was cut out. Photo / John Stone
Whangarei man Barry Joblin used a cell phone app to identify a potentially fatal melanoma. He displays the scar where it was cut out. Photo / John Stone

Joblin didn't get around to doing anything about it until he got a reminder email from SkinVision a couple of weeks later asking if he had been to see a doctor yet. It was that email which prompted him to make an appointment.

The doctor thought it was viral and gave Joblin an ointment to use for two weeks.

Eight weeks later nothing had changed so the father-of-four and grandfather to 10 went back to the doctor.

This time he was told it was an easily treatable Basal Cell Carcinoma and a biopsy was suggested. Joblin asked them to remove the whole thing.

A few days later, just before Christmas, Joblin got a call to tell him the lump was in fact melanoma.

From then it was all go. By December 27 he was in Auckland for more tests and an operation to remove more tissue around and the nearby lymph nodes.

The tissue removed showed no signs of cancer but the scare left him on high alert.

"Now I watch it like a hawk and test everything," he said.

He admitted the app had "very likely" saved his life. "I think I wouldn't have paid much attention to it."

It costs about $43 a year to use the programme but Joblin, whose family all make use of it, said it was a small price to pay.

This lesion on Barry Joblin's arm turned out to be melanoma. Photo / Supplied
This lesion on Barry Joblin's arm turned out to be melanoma. Photo / Supplied

"It seems a bit dumb not to have this thing when it can so clearly save your life."

SkinVision chief executive Erik de Heus said he was delighted to help Joblin get diagnosed early.

"Whilst public knowledge of skin cancer is on the rise, New Zealanders are still limited by the number of dermatologists, the huge distances inherent in the country and ever-expanding waiting lists.

"Cases such as this, where Melanoma presents itself in a non-typical nature all too often go undiagnosed, severely restricting treatment options."

New Zealand's skin cancer rates were among the highest in the world with it also being the most common cause of cancer in the country. It killed 486 Kiwis in 2012.

Skin cancer is largely preventable with more than 90 per cent of all skin cancer cases attributed to excess sun exposure.

SkinVision, based in the Netherlands, was founded in 2011, clinically proven in 2013 and by 2015 had in-house dermatologists reviewing photos.

In that time 15,329 skin cancers have been detected using the app from almost 3.4 million photos taken by more than 1.15m users.

Cancer Society of New Zealand medical director Dr Chris Jackson said apps could be useful for awareness but could not be relied on for a diagnosis.

"A skin specialist with the right equipment is still better than an app for the detection of skin cancer. No doctor would rely on an app to be certain that a skin lesion was not a cancer," he said.

"We do not recommend general population screening for skin cancers (e.g. mole map photography) or using apps to diagnose cancer because of a lack of evidence of effectiveness. The most obvious risk with using an app is the risk of a misdiagnosis and the chance of that happening is a lot greater than a human giving an incorrect diagnosis."

He said everyone should regularly check all areas of their skin for any change in shape, colour or size of a lesion or the development of a new one and go to their GP straight away if they had concerns.

Most melanomas were detected by people themselves or someone close to them, he said.

When to be SunSmart

• When the ultraviolet index (UVI) is 3 or above
• From September to April, especially between 10am and 4 pm
• At the beach, as reflections from water and sand can increase UV
• At high altitudes, especially near snow, which strongly reflects UV

How to know if UV levels are 3 or higher

• NIWA website UVI forecast for specific sites (http://www.niwa.co.nz/UV-forecasts)
• Sun Protection Alert (www.sunsmart.org.nz)
• uv2Day free smartphone app (www.niwa.co.nz/node/111461)