Pancreas cancer is often deadly, in part because of challenges in diagnosing it early. Many individuals with pancreas do not have symptoms early in the disease course. However, there sometimes is an early indicator. And it is one that a selfie may spot. Investigators at the University of Washington in Seattle have created an app called Biliscreen. Snap a selfie in a well-lit environment (or with a set of special 3D-printed goggles), and the app analyzes the whites of your eyes. Pancreas cancers often obstruct the bile duct near the liver, causing a substance called bilirubin to dump into the bloodstream. As a result, the whites or the eyes can become more yellowish. The app looks for this yellow hue at a level the human eye cannot perceive.
While other medical issues can cause an elevation in your bilirubin (and resultant color changes in your eyes), the finding of yellowish eye color can prompt your health care provider to investigate. We have blood tests to find elevated bilirubin levels, but the app may be faster, cheaper, and is not invasive. In a future post, we will turn to skin cancer detecting apps designed for use with your mobile phone. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.