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Conditional Dependence Tests Reveal the Usage of ABCD Rule Features and Bias Variables in Automatic Skin Lesion Classification
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, and melanoma is the leading cause of cancer related deaths. To improve the chances of survival, early detection of melanoma is crucial. Automated systems for classifying skin lesions can assist with initial analysis. However, if we expect people to entrust their well-being to an automatic classification algorithm, it is important to ensure that the algorithm makes medically sound decisions. We investigate this question by testing whether two state-of-the-art models use the features defined in the dermoscopic ABCD rule or whether they rely on biases. We use a method that frames supervised learning as a structural causal model, thus reducing the question whether a feature is used to a conditional dependence test. We show that this conditional dependence method yields meaningful results on data from the ISIC archive. Furthermore, we find that the selected models incorporate asymmetry, border and dermoscopic structures in their decisions but not color. Finally, we show that the same classifiers also use bias features such as the patient's age, skin color or the existence of colorful patches.