Can smartphone apps help cure cancer?

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

Thumbnail for 9232By: Jennifer Jolly


It wasn’t long ago that cell phones were accused of being a potential cause of cancer, much less a cure. Times have changed, the National Cancer Institute has put many of our cell phone fears to rest, and now there’s reason to hope that our smartphones can actually help identify and squash cancer once and for all.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and in my world that usually means doing another story on gadgets gone pinkto raise awareness and money for the cause through a blushing array of pastel-painted techy-things. It’s a great annual tradition in tech, but this year is a bit different — some of the world’s most powerful players from the tech and research communities are teaming up to go one step past pink to search for a cure right on your smartphone.

• An Apple a Day

For the month of October, Apple is getting in on the fundraising action by allowing you to donate straight to the cancer research giant City of Hope via iTunes. You just choose an amount — $5, $10, $25, $50, $100, $200 — it’s billed right to your iTunes account and Apple will transfer 100% of each donation to City of Hope.

It’s a super easy way to contribute funds to finding a cure, and a pretty big deal for Apple, which has only held a donation event like this a handful of times in its history, typically following a disaster.

This month also marks the third anniversary of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs death from pancreatic cancer. In a letter to Apple employees last week, CEO Tim Cook asked people to,

“take a moment to appreciate the many ways Steve made our world better. Children learn in new ways thanks to the products he dreamed up. The most creative people on earth use them to compose symphonies and pop songs …”

And now, maybe to help fund the cure for cancer too? Awesome.

Genes in Space

Speaking of awesome, scientists who have devoted their lives to cancer research efforts have an absolutely unbelievable mound of data to sift through in order to better understand the disease, and too few human eyes to actually study it. That’s where you and your smartphone come in.

App Genes in Space gets you searching for a cancer cure in the guise of mobile gaming. The game is similar to Space Invaders, but while you navigate through on-screen asteroids and other hazards, you’re actually helping to uncover cancer’s genetic secrets … and pave the way for new cures.

But how does this help beat cancer? It’s actually simpler than you might think: The game translates cancer research data into the objects and space dust you see flying past your ship. As you collect the valuable material to complete your goals, you’re actually highlighting genetic data that scientists can use as they battle for a cure back here in reality.

The game was dreamed up by Cancer Research UK, and it’s 100% free on both Android and iOS.


B4BC stands for Boarding For Breast Cancer, a non-profit organization that provides breast cancer awareness and education, and they also happen to have a stellar free smartphone app as well on both iPhone and Android that is designed for active ladies with busy lives.

Learn how to correctly perform a self-exam, check out some amazing recipes and everyday health tips, and set a monthly reminder to keep on top of your monthly self-check so it doesn’t get lost in the haze of grueling work schedules and endless kids’ soccer practices. If you want to take the fight against breast cancer to the next level you can check the schedule of community events and volunteer opportunities in your area, and score some sweet discounts on products that support the cause.


It’s not just everyday people like you and me that can use smartphone apps to treat and prevent cancer — your doctor can get in on the action as well. The DermoScreen app works hand-in-hand with a special camera accessory to screen and diagnose suspected instances of skin cancer automatically.

A University of Houston professor created the app to aid doctors in screening possible cases of skin cancer with the greatest chance of successful diagnosis. How accurate? Well, early testing showed that the smartphone app — yes, the same smartphone you use to find the nearest Starbucks — correctly spotted skin cancer over 85% of the time. That’s a higher rate of accuracy than primary care physicians and equal to the accuracy rate of trained dermatologists.


A friend of mine just sent me an email — literally, just 30 seconds ago — with a story about the physician-finder app ZocDoc helping to save a woman’s life. For real. It’s a story I can totally relate with, in terms of being too busy to do anything except what’s right in front of me,

“Like most people, my life can be quite crazy. I knew I needed to make an appointment with my OB/GYN, but each time I thought about it, it was after hours. About a year ago I was traveling for work and I was in the hotel room at 11pm playing on Facebook when I got one of those pesky ads…this one was for ZocDoc…I thought what the heck, let’s see if my OB/GYN is there…well he was…so at 11 pm in a hotel in Pittsburgh, I made an appointment with my MD in Florida. Needless to say, if that app wasn’t there, I wouldn’t know that I have breast cancer yet…”

And the story has a happy ending for 39-year old Ilene. She caught it early, and is healthy again.