Machine Learning
Medical device
Product Development

FDA Greenlights Revolutionary Skin Cancer Detection Device and the Regulatory Implications for Future AI/ML-enabled devices

Regulatory implications of first AI skin cancer detection device for PCPs

cosm logo
integration of AI technology in PCP setting

The Dawn of AI-Assisted Skin Cancer Detection in Primary Care

In a groundbreaking move that signals a new era in digital health innovation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized DermaSensor, the first artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled medical device for skin cancer detection in primary care settings. This authorization, announced in January 2024 [1], marks a significant milestone in the integration of AI technologies into everyday medical practice, particularly in the field of dermatology.

What is DermaSensor?

DermaSensor is a handheld device that uses elastic scattering spectroscopy and AI algorithms to analyze skin lesions and provide real-time risk assessments for melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. Unlike previous AI-enabled dermatology devices, DermaSensor is specifically designed for use by non-specialist physicians, particularly primary care providers (PCPs).

The Clinical Impact: Bridging the Expertise Gap

The introduction of DermaSensor into primary care settings has the potential to address several critical challenges in dermatological care:

  1. Improved Access: With average wait times for dermatologist appointments reaching 35 days, DermaSensor could significantly reduce delays in skin cancer detection.
  2. Enhanced Primary Care Capabilities: The device empowers PCPs to make more informed decisions about which patients need referrals to dermatologists, potentially reducing unnecessary referrals while catching high-risk cases earlier.
  3. Standardized Assessment: By providing an objective, AI-driven assessment, DermaSensor may help reduce variability in skin lesion evaluations among non-specialists.

The Evidence Behind DermaSensor

The FDA's authorization was based on three key studies:

  1. DERM-SUCCESS: A pivotal trial involving 1,579 lesions from 1,005 patients across 22 primary care centers.
  2. DERM-ASSESS: A supplemental validation study focusing on melanoma detection, including 440 lesions from 311 patients evaluated by dermatologists.
  3. Clinical Utility Study: An examination of DermaSensor's impact on PCP decision-making, involving 108 PCPs and over 10,000 lesions.

Key findings from these studies include:

  • 95.5% sensitivity for DermaSensor compared to 83% for PCPs alone
  • 96.6% negative predictive value
  • Non-inferiority to dermatologist sensitivity (90%)
  • Increased management sensitivity (91.4% vs. 82.0%) and diagnostic sensitivity (81.7% vs. 71.1%) when PCPs used the device
However, it's important to note that the device's specificity was relatively low at 20.7%, which could lead to an increase in unnecessary referrals or biopsies.

Regulatory Implications and Future Directions

The FDA's authorization of DermaSensor under the De Novo pathway sets a new regulatory precedent for AI-enabled medical devices in dermatology. This pathway is used for novel, low-to-moderate risk devices without existing predicate devices for comparison. Key regulatory implications include:

  1. New Product Classification: The De Novo authorization establishes a new product classification code, potentially streamlining future approvals for similar devices through the 510(k) pathway.
  2. Post-Market Surveillance Requirements: The FDA has mandated post-market performance testing in underrepresented populations, addressing concerns about the device's performance across diverse skin types.
  3. Equity-Focused Approach: The authorization highlights the FDA's growing emphasis on ensuring new medical technologies are developed and deployed equitably across diverse patient populations.
  4. Balancing Innovation and Safety: The approval process for DermaSensor demonstrates the FDA's efforts to encourage innovation while maintaining rigorous safety and efficacy standards.

Challenges and Considerations

While the authorization of DermaSensor represents a significant advance, several challenges and considerations remain:

  1. Specificity Concerns: The low specificity of the device (20.7%) raises questions about the potential for unnecessary referrals and biopsies, a issue that has affected previous AI-enabled dermatology devices.
  2. Diversity in Clinical Trials: The DERM-SUCCESS trial included predominantly White patients (97.1%), with only 13% from the most pigmented skin types (Fitzpatrick V/VI). This underscores the need for more diverse representation in medical device clinical trials.
  3. Real-World Performance: The true impact of DermaSensor on clinical outcomes and healthcare resource utilization will need to be carefully monitored as the device is deployed in various primary care settings.
  4. Integration into Clinical Workflow: The success of DermaSensor will depend on its seamless integration into primary care workflows and its adoption by PCPs, particularly in underserved areas.

However, in the De Novo reclassification order, the FDA had some conditions:

"In order to satisfy special control (1) above, FDA has determined that you must collect and report postmarket surveillance data acquired under anticipated conditions of use to demonstrate that the device performs as intended when used to analyze data from the intended patient population.  Specifically, you must conduct postmarket clinical validation performance testing of the DermaSensor device in patients from demographic groups representative of the U.S. population, to include populations who had limited representation of melanomas in the premarket studies (e.g., Fitzpatrick skin phototypes IV, V, and VI) or in whom sensitivity was lower than 90%, which you have proposed is the standard of care performance goal based on sensitivity of dermatologists"

This real-world performance monitoring is a major shift for Class II devices. Typically this is seen with Class III devices to ensure safety and effectiveness.

The Path Forward

The authorization of DermaSensor is a landmark achievement in the integration of AI/ML technologies into medical practice. It sets a precedent for future innovations and highlights the FDA’s commitment to adapting regulatory processes to keep pace with technological advancements. Moving forward, continuous evidence generation and rigorous post-market surveillance will be essential to address any emerging issues and ensure the safe and effective use of AI-enabled medical devices.


The FDA's authorization of DermaSensor represents a significant milestone in the integration of AI technologies into primary care and dermatology. While challenges remain, particularly regarding specificity and equitable performance across diverse populations, this development holds promise for improving early detection of skin cancers and enhancing the capabilities of primary care physicians. As we move forward, careful monitoring of real-world performance and ongoing research will be crucial to realizing the full potential of AI-enabled medical devices in improving patient care and outcomes.


[1] -

Image Source: Created with assistance from ChatGPT, powered by OpenAI

Disclaimer -