At Skin Analytics we are really focused on making sure that we get our AI just right. Our aim has always been to be able to help identify skin cancer earlier by removing some of the barriers that people face. And we are well on the way. But really, we always need to keep in mind why we want to help people find skin cancer.
That is why it is nice to hear positive feedback from people who have used our service. Recently one of our clients, Simon reached out to tell us the difference that we had helped to make in his life. I could try and paraphrase what he said, but I just could not do it justice. Please have a read of what Simon has to say as it beautifully sums up just how important early detection really is:
“As a freckle faced ginger kid with the palest of skin, moving to Australia from the UK as a child filled me with dread. Not because of the spiders, snakes and dingoes, but because of the sun. Even in the UK I had grown up slightly in fear of the sun after a couple of bad experiences where I had escaped my mother’s attempt to paste me in sun screen and I had paid the blistering price by the end of the day.
However, a move to Australia at 12 years old did exactly the opposite. At school we were required to put sunscreen on at all times. Foreign legion hats with neck protection were the norm at lunchtimes and putting zinc cream (the thickest on sunblock creams) on your nose and lips was even made to look cool by famous Aussie cricketers and surfers. We were all taught slip, slop, slap (t-shirt, screen, hat) and within a year of arriving I’d already experience the first skin cancer awareness speech at school and a skin check for risk propensity. No surprises that I came out high!
And so I grew up experiencing the great Aussie outdoors to its fullest but usually fully protected. The odd slip reminded pretty quickly as to how harsh the Aussie sun and a non-polluted sky can be and it quickly put me back in my place. On one occasion, even into A&E!
At 16 I started to have my first periodic skin checks where a dermascope was used to check out any suspect freckles. This was pretty standard fair in Australia. In fact, my GP suggested that a bi-annual check of this nature should really be as routine as a dental check-up for all Aussies, let alone someone of my complexion. All seemed OK though and even a precautionary biopsy on my darkest of freckles suggested I had nothing to worry about at this stage.
Fast forward 25 years and I find myself settled back in the UK working in the health insurance industry with a particularly keen eye on skin cancer developments. This in a society and culture where skin cancer is perhaps dismissed a bit too easily by too many. I haven’t got the stats to back it up, but I reckon many Brits get more seriously sunburned in their brief but intense cavalier exposure to their summer holiday sun then many Aussies would all year round yet don’t see skin cancer as a high risk to them.
Anyway my personal journey continued with the odd NHS GP check of one or two more suspect freckles. Fortunately my private health insurance meant I was able to push for specialist dermatologist referrals which meant I could perhaps get some more proactive and preventative checks and biopsies than might have otherwise been the case.
Fortunately nothing came back positive from the tests but I was always keeping an eye on any freckles changing in colour, size, shape, texture or any irritation – the ABCD mole check https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/melanoma-skin-cancer/symptoms/
One freckle did catch my attention on the back of my leg, just underneath the crease of my knee. While it wasn’t irritable, it was noticed by my family who saw it less often and noticed it seemed larger since when they last saw it – about the size of a small penny. But this freckle had been one I had showed to a specialist in the past and hadn’t caused any concern at the time. So in the absence of any noticeable colour change or irritation I neglected it slightly and carried on, racking up the miles on my bike and enjoying family time in the great outdoors.
In late 2017 I was working for one of the UK’s largest health insurers when approached by Neil Daly, MD of Skin Analytics. Neil was keen to discuss opportunities to more proactively support our members with a faster, more accessible and more accurate skin cancer diagnosis pathway using the Skin Analytics digital imaging tool and analysis.
This was not only personally of interest to me but was hugely relevant to an industry challenge around effective management of skin risks with a concern around variation and accuracy in referral patterns and diagnosis of suspect melanomas.
It wasn’t hard to get a number of senior stakeholders in the room to experience a compelling presentation by Neil. When it came to the demonstration of the tool, I willingly volunteered to have the freckle on my leg scanned as if I was a real user of the platform. I did this innocently (or naively perhaps) believing there was nothing wrong with it so was a little taken back when Neil contacted me discreetly the next day saying “Simon, we hope there isn’t anything for you to be concerned about, but our analysis and a review by our Specialist Dermatologist has suggested you should probably get that checked out to be safe”.
A return visit to my GP led to his slight surprise as to the reason for my coming back. But given my concern, he did arrange for a biopsy to be taken under the NHS. Unfortunately, two weeks later I was contacted by him to say that my biopsy had come back positive as a malignant melanoma in situ aka a Skin Cancer.
Two operations and a few months later, I’m pleased to say that I have just had the results back to confirm that I am all clear as far as that melanoma is concerned. Catching it early had been a blessing, in part due to my skin awareness form growing up in Aus and significantly in part due to the Skin Analytics early detection for which I am extremely grateful to Neil and the team.
I’m obviously now on even higher alert for self-monitoring for potential further occurrences. If that was a freckle on the back of my leg behind my knee, the risk of a reoccurrence on a more sun exposed part of my body like my lips, nose, neck and ears must be extremely high. But catch it early and these things can be dealt with without too much impact.
To do this, people need the right education and the NHS along with charities like SkCin.org, Melanoma UK, MacMillan and Cancer Research UK do a lot to raise awareness. But clearly it is not in our national consciousness as much as it might be in sunnier climates.
But they also need easy access to proactive routine monitoring, checks and referrals. Physical solutions already exist for this but affordability and accessibility presents barriers for the masses.
Digital technology can play a role here but it needs to be done in a clinically evidenced accurate, robust and responsible way so as not to cause unnecessary patient concern or unnecessarily overload an already stretched state health system.
It’s no surprise therefore that I’m a big fan of the role Skin Analytics plays to address both these challenges. With the ongoing development of its artificial intelligence, I really hope Neil and the team can fulfil the ambition here. Imagine if this platform was available to you in your local GP clinic, chemist or company’s occupational health suite to use at any time. Or if high risk individuals like me could purchase to own at home. Or for the NHS to even prescribe me one….. can you hear me Mr. Hancock?!”
Simon Miller – Senior Director in Health Insurance