AlumnaProfile - June K. Robinson, '74
 
By W. Thomas Carey

Shedding Light on
the Sun's Harmful Effects
John C. Blasko, '69

She has published a
model for skin self-
examination and is
working to develop
more effective strate-
gies for skin cancer
prevention and early
detection.

Dr. June K. Robinson, a nationally regarded skin cancer expert, wants people to understand a simple message: too much sun can kill. But not everyone listens.

So, Dr. Robinson, director of the division of dermatology at Loyola University Chicago, and other physicians backed an advertising campaign featuring a man who had a portion of his nose and cheek removed because of squamous cell carcinoma. The ad, which ran several years ago and targeted men, showed home movies of Don Biederman as a toddler playing at the beach. Then it revealed a grown Biederman removing his facial prosthesis.

“What we decided to do was shock value,” says Dr. Robinson, a 1974 Maryland graduate. “Prior advertising campaigns were touchy-feely, with mom and the kids. People were not getting it,” Dr. Robinson says. “That shocking image gets married to a message which motivates action. That is what men need to hear.”

Dr. Robinson has made a name for herself during her 30-year career as a physician. In January, she was named editor of the Archives of Dermatology, the leading clinical journal in the field. As editor, Dr. Robinson will direct coverage of the magazine, publish articles written by physicians who are working on cutting edge clinical research, assign reviews and work with the editorial board. “It’s a big job,” Dr. Robinson says. “It is an opportunity to help the field along.”

There is the gentle hand of the editor shaping what is going on. The editor can see some of the best work of clinical research in the world. Her goal is simple: “I want to stay number one. To continue to have it be the journal that represents the relevant clinical findings for research.” Of course, the publication is not mainstream fodder, but Dr. Robinson can influence the general public with editorials and stories that make their way into the general media.

Despite repeated warnings that sun exposure is dangerous, skin cancer remains a serious health issue in the U.S. More than 1 million cases of non-melanoma and 55,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year. About 8,000 people die annually from skin cancer. “The unfortunate new trend is to go to tanning parlors,” Dr. Robinson says. “The basic attitude of the American public is having a little color is healthy looking and makes people look better.”

Only about 12 percent of the population wear hats when they are in the sun, and the people who use sun screen generally are 35 and older. “I think we have made most of the gains that we will have through the use of sun screen,” Dr. Robinson says.   

Dr. Robinson is well-known in the profession. She currently is listed as one of The Best Doctors in America, and in 2001 she was named a top doctor in Chicago’s metropolitan area. She also was a panel member of the NIH Consensus Development Conference, Diagnosis and Treatment of Early Melanoma in 1992, and a panel member of the international agency of the World Health Organization that looked at sun screen use. Teams of physicians who Dr. Robinson has worked with have received significant amounts of money for collaborative research.

the sunThere was no magical moment that led Dr. Robinson into medicine; she liked science and wanted to help people. The older of two children, Dr. Robinson grew up in Philadelphia. Her father sold insurance, and her mother was a bookkeeper. Her parents encouraged her to become “whatever I wanted to be,” she recalls.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1970 with a degree in biology, Dr. Robinson attended Maryland where she met Dr. Harry M. Robinson Jr., professor and head of the medical school’s department of dermatology. Harry Robinson stimulated her interest in dermatology and became her mentor.

While the two were not related, Dr. Robinson says having the same last name probably helped her get a little more attention. “He showed an unusual amount of interest in me,” she says. “He extended his courtesy. It was a gift. He cared so deeply about Maryland. He was interested in the students.”

Through Harry Robinson, Dr. Robinson quickly found that she wanted to pursue a career in dermatology. “I just enjoyed dermatology, the range of different kinds of patients, the spectrum of diseases,” she says. “One could see the results of what one did.”

Harry Robinson helped Dr. Robinson land a residency at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. By 1977, she was chief resident and clinical instructor at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Hanover, N.H. After a fellowship at Mohs Chemosurgery and Dermatologic Surgery New York University Skin and Cancer Clinic, Dr. Robinson became assistant professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago where she was a faculty member for 19 years.

In 1998, she became professor of dermatology and pathology at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. One of her missions has been to educate people about the dangers of the sun and to early skin cancer detection. She has published a model for skin self-examination and is working to develop more effective strategies for skin cancer prevention and early detection.

Most cases of skin cancer are found on the head and neck, areas more commonly exposed to the sun, according to Dr. Robinson. She looks for moles and once they spread beyond the surface of the skin, the cancer becomes less curable. “There is no really effective systemic treatment other than cutting out the cancerous cells,” Dr. Robinson says.

The lag time from exposure to developing melanoma is 10 to 15 years. That is why educating people and sometimes shocking them into understanding the dangers of the sun is important.

Many people, Dr. Robinson says, are in denial. “It can’t happen to me,” she says is the attitude. But physicians can help by educating patients about the dangers of the sun and how to protect themselves. “The physician’s message is a most powerful motivator.”

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