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Focus on Lynn Cornelius, MD

Lynn Anne Cornelius, MD, is an associate professor and chief of the Division of Dermatology. Her specialty interest is melanoma.

She sees patients at:

• Center for Advanced Medicine, Melanoma Center, 4921 Parkview Place, 5th floor, Suite B, St. Louis, MO

• 969 Mason Road, Suite 220, Creve Couer, MO

FOR AN APPOINTMENT, PLEASE PHONE 314-362-2643 (Center for Advanced Medicine) or 314-996-8010 (Mason Road office).

What happened in the course of schooling to make you choose dermatology as your specialty?

During medical school, I tended to be attracted to aspects of every specialty. That was a blessing and a curse at the same time.

During my dermatology rotation, not only did I enjoy the practice as a student, but I discovered that the dermatologists really liked what they did. It was the combination of the specialty, the patient population, and the individual physicians – the physicians seemed very satisfied with their choice of specialty and were able to affect change in their patients. Dermatology includes aspects of internal medicine, surgery and pathology – giving us the opportunity to incorporate aspects of different specialties in our practice of dermatology.
Dr. Cornelius (far right) with her mother, niece and sister

Your specialty areas are melanoma and skin cancer?

Yes. When I started in dermatology over ten years ago, I realized that with all of my incredible colleagues here at Washington University, there was no one whose practice focused upon patients at high risk for melanoma, nor anyone specializing in primary melanoma diagnosis. After discussing with colleagues, I realized it was an area where we could better serve our patients - a multi-disciplinary effort including dermatologists, medical, surgical and radiation oncologists. And that’s how specializing in melanoma evolved -- the more I do it, the more I love it. The physicians that I interact with teach me something every day, and hopefully it flows both ways.

It’s a rewarding specialty, but it’s very humbling. Metastatic melanoma treatment is challenging, to say the least.

What brought you to Washington University?

Both the caliber of the institution and of the dermatology division were incredibly attractive, as was the opportunity to practice with amazing colleagues in all disciplines. My husband works for Monsanto and it was a great win-win.

Which aspect of your practice is most interesting?

The combination of the patients that I interact with on a daily basis, as well as the collegiality of the other specialties from which I learn, is very rewarding. As I mentioned before, I am surrounded by outstanding colleagues and staff – sometimes I stop to realize it, and sometimes I take it for granted. After visiting programs at other peer institutions, it’s easy to recognize how good it is in your own back yard. I’ll often have patients comment that we have such a great practice – it’s not about me, it’s about the entire group that is involved in patient care.

It is also gratifying to see medical students graduate into residency training programs all over the country, and move into academic positions, fellowships or private practice as they become successful, excellent physicians. Sometimes you don’t appreciate the impact that a conversation can have on a student or resident as they are contemplating training and career opportunities until several years down the road – it’s very rewarding.

What new developments in your field are you excited about?

I tend to focus on the melanoma field, and there are clinical diagnosis and treatment trials in progress that are very exciting. We are encouraged by newer targeted agents in the treatment of metastatic melanoma that seem to hold more promise than our previous therapies.

We are working with our colleagues in biomedical engineering and cardiology in the application of laser imaging modalities as well as newer ways to analyze ultrasound imaging in melanoma diagnosis and management. Hopefully these will aid in the diagnosis of primary tumors, as well as earlier diagnosis of melanoma that has spread to the adjacent lymph nodes.

We also work closely with medical oncologist Gerry Linette, MD, PhD. Because of his leadership in the field, we have several multi-institutional treatment trials available to our patients where novel agents, or newer combinations of established agents, are available. He also has an investigator-initiated trial employing a patient’s own cells in immunotherapy treatment, the responses to which have been encouraging.

Where are you from?

I call many places home – I grew up in a suburb just north of Philadelphia, but due to training opportunities and a two-career family, I have had the good fortune to have lived in the upper Midwest and the South as well. So, although I sometimes consider myself a transplanted Northeasterner, I have lived in the Midwest longer than any other place… a true Midwesterner!

Is there a particular award or achievement that is most gratifying to you?

Many of us have received different specialty-related awards and accolades – for which we are truly grateful. I think that it is important for the institution, the Division, as well as the people who may look to you for leadership.

As I reflect back upon these achievements, the ones I am most proud of are not singularly my own, but rather the successes of the people I’ve helped to train. When it clicks, and you know you’ve had something to do with helping people reach their stride – that’s truly as good as it gets.

You have to be successful in your own right, or else you are not going to be great leader. But it can’t be all about you, and your achievements at this stage have to be more about the achievements of those that you’ve helped develop.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice was, “only touch a paper once and then pass it on”. You can translate that into a larger context regarding decisions that have to be made in a timely manner. You gather information, make a choice with the information at hand and take responsibility for the decision thus made. The caveat is that this is not a static process - always continue to gather, choose and move forward.

What is the most important thing a person can do to impact his or her health?

In the broadest sense, an individual must take responsibility for his/her own health. All specialties can give relevant advice – in dermatology, photoprotection is what we purport. Using sunscreen is very important, and hopefully we have successfully relayed that message to our patients. Another particularly important message, that I believe has not been as successfully relayed, is to stay away from tanning beds! Middle and high school children and young adults are not educated about the risks. We are actively working on getting tanning bed legislation to include age restrictions and parental consent - Missouri is just not there yet.

The tanning industry has actually made the UV lights so much more intense so you can get a “better tan” in a shorter period of time. Many patients I see in their twenties with melanoma were tanning bed users. The young people have no idea how dangerous the beds are, and as characteristic of youth, they don’t think anything bad is ever going to happen to them. When medical students and residents see people their own age dealing with a potentially life threatening cancer it drives home the importance of educating this group on the dangers of indoor tanning.

As I mentioned above, in 2009, The World Health Organization categorized UV emitting devices (tanning beds) as Class 1 carcinogens – the same as tobacco and ionizing radiation. It doesn’t get any worse than that. It is irresponsible that legislation and safeguards do not exist to protect and educate minors on the real risk to their health.

So, always wear sunscreen and if you feel the need to look tanned, use a spray. Tans in a can or bottle are fine.

If you weren’t a doctor what would you like to be doing?

I have many hobbies -- I like to exercise, love to cook and I love architecture. I wish I could sing (scary), and play an instrument well (maybe it’s not too late for that). I am so happy doing what I do, that I don’t sit back and say “I wish I would have…”. It may just have to do with how I’m wired, it may have to do with my choice of specialties, it may have to do with my love of family and friends, and it may have to do with the people with whom I work - in any event, I’m pretty happy doing what I’m doing.
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Copyright 2015 Washington University School of Medicine
Copyright 2015 Washington University School of Medicine