Dear Dr. K: Among the many challenges and downsides of our smartphones, can you point to any not-so-obvious upsides to these instruments we glue our eyeballs to?


As it turns out, today’s craze in smartphone selfies may have some medical value that extends beyond vanity.

To date, three medical conditions have been diagnosable from selfies: pancreatic cancer, skin cancers and oxygen desaturation. It seems other people’s scrutiny of selfies posted on social media can lead to changes being noticed.

In the case of skin cancers on the face, they may be so small or so slow-growing that the individual doesn’t notice the day-to-day change, but others do.  In people with chronic heart or lung conditions a slight change in facial coloration due to reduction in oxygen concentration in the blood may be more readily perceived by others than by ourselves.

Additionally, one of the earliest changes seen in pancreatic cancer can be a very slight scleral jaundice (yellowing of the whites of the eyes). If caught in its early stages, pancreatic cancer has a much better cure rate. Selfies can be very sensitive in catching this early change. So much so that for people with a family history of pancreatic cancer there is a new app – dubbed “Bili Screen” – in which captured pictures can detect slight levels of scleral yellowing (from bilirubin) before this change is even visible to direct observation

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