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Dermatologist-level classification of skin cancer with deep neural networks

Nature volume 542, pages 115118 (02 February 2017) | Download Citation

  • A Corrigendum to this article was published on 28 June 2017


Skin cancer, the most common human malignancy1,2,3, is primarily diagnosed visually, beginning with an initial clinical screening and followed potentially by dermoscopic analysis, a biopsy and histopathological examination. Automated classification of skin lesions using images is a challenging task owing to the fine-grained variability in the appearance of skin lesions. Deep convolutional neural networks (CNNs)4,5 show potential for general and highly variable tasks across many fine-grained object categories6,7,8,9,10,11. Here we demonstrate classification of skin lesions using a single CNN, trained end-to-end from images directly, using only pixels and disease labels as inputs. We train a CNN using a dataset of 129,450 clinical images—two orders of magnitude larger than previous datasets12—consisting of 2,032 different diseases. We test its performance against 21 board-certified dermatologists on biopsy-proven clinical images with two critical binary classification use cases: keratinocyte carcinomas versus benign seborrheic keratoses; and malignant melanomas versus benign nevi. The first case represents the identification of the most common cancers, the second represents the identification of the deadliest skin cancer. The CNN achieves performance on par with all tested experts across both tasks, demonstrating an artificial intelligence capable of classifying skin cancer with a level of competence comparable to dermatologists. Outfitted with deep neural networks, mobile devices can potentially extend the reach of dermatologists outside of the clinic. It is projected that 6.3 billion smartphone subscriptions will exist by the year 2021 (ref. 13) and can therefore potentially provide low-cost universal access to vital diagnostic care.

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We thank the Thrun laboratory for their support and ideas. We thank members of the dermatology departments at Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts General Hospital and University of Iowa for completing our tests. This study was supported by funding from the Baxter Foundation to H.M.B. In addition, this work was supported by a National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Advancing Translational Science Clinical and Translational Science Award (UL1 TR001085). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

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Author notes

    • Andre Esteva
    •  & Brett Kuprel

    These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. Department of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA

    • Andre Esteva
    •  & Brett Kuprel
  2. Department of Dermatology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA

    • Roberto A. Novoa
    • , Justin Ko
    •  & Susan M. Swetter
  3. Department of Pathology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA

    • Roberto A. Novoa
  4. Dermatology Service, Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, Palo Alto, California, USA

    • Susan M. Swetter
  5. Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA

    • Helen M. Blau
  6. Department of Computer Science, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA

    • Sebastian Thrun


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A.E. and B.K. conceptualized and trained the algorithms and collected data. R.A.N., J.K. and S.S. developed the taxonomy, oversaw the medical tasks and recruited dermatologists. H.M.B. and S.T. supervised the project.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Andre Esteva or Brett Kuprel or Roberto A. Novoa or Sebastian Thrun.

Reviewer Information

Nature thanks A. Halpern, G. Merlino and M. Welling for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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