June 17, 2008

Dermatology Wasn’t a Rash Decision

By Karen Blackledge, The Daily Item, Sunbury, Pa.

Jun. 17--RIVERSIDE -- Growing up in the Danville area influenced Elizabeth "Liz" Magill Billingsley to become a doctor.

"My mother is a retired nurse. My brother is a doctor. My parents had friends who were in medicine," said Billingsley, formerly of Riverside who will be promoted to full professor of dermatology at Penn State Hershey Medical Center and College of Medicine as of July 1. She had been an associate professor of dermatology since 2000 and an assistant professor of medicine since 1994.

The president of the Pennsylvania Academy of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery in 2004-05 and daughter of Jack and Gladys Magill, of Riverside, was featured in a "Biography" magazine story about skin cancer in May 2000.

Role models such as Geisinger's Dr. Victor Marks led her to choose dermatology as her speciality. "I knew him growing up. Now we interact a lot at conferences, meetings and organizations," the Hershey resident said.

She travels nationally to speak about skin cancer, skin tumors and procedures used on fingernails and toenails.

As a kid, she admits, "I didn't take as good as care of my skin as I should have" while lying in the sun covered with baby oil. Now, she stays out of the sun as much as possible when rays are strongest and uses sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15.

Melanoma's amoung us

Some time ago, she walked past a woman while at the Hershey Outlets and spotted a jagged dime-size black and blue mole on her right shoulder. Billingsley was sure it was a malignant melanoma -- a deadly form of skin cancer. She got as far as the parking lot and decided to go back and warn the woman to have the mole examined.

Six months later, she received a note from the woman who had made an appointment with a dermatologist after Billingsley spoke with her. Although the mole was malignant, it was detected early enough before the cancer could spread. "Thanks to you," the woman wrote, she would be around to raise her girls.

Billingsley said skin cancer cases are on the rise with more people spending more time outside. "People are living longer and people are tanning on purpose," she said.

She is also seeing melanoma cases increasing faster than any other types of skin cancers. "One in five Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetime. The incidence is especially increasing in young adults and more than 8,000 Americans will die of melanoma this year," she said.

While malignant melanoma is the most deadly of commonly seen skin cancers, if it's caught early enough it can be completely curable, said Billingsley who does some clinical research on skin cancer and works with transplant patients with skin cancer. She also teaches medical students and dermatology residents.

Melanoma often appears as a brown lesion resembling a mole that changes over time.

Risk factors for skin cancer include a fair complexion, light eyes, a family history of skin cancer, inability to tan easily, red hair and history of significant sun exposure. "Special attention should be paid to appearance of a new lesion, a non-healing lesion or a change in a previously stable lesion," she said.

Career moves

Since 1999, she has served as director of dermatologic surgery and Mohns micrographic surgery at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. She was director of cutaneous laser surgery from 1997-2000 and an instructor with a Mohs micrographic surgery fellowship from 1995-99. She began serving as a staff dermatologist and Mohs surgeon in 1994. There are about 700 to 800 Mohs certified surgeons in the U.S.

A 1980 Danville High School graduate, she is a 1984 graduate of Cornell University where she majored in nutritional biochemistry and Penn State University College of Medicine at Hershey in 1989. She served an internship at Hershey, a dermatology residency at Geisinger Medical Center and a fellowship in Mohs micrographic surgery at Hershey. The 45-year-old lives in Hershey with her husband, Mel, director of the department of pharmacology at Hershey, and their son.

The Magills also have a son Dr. John Magill, a retired surgeon with Sun Orthopaedic Group of Lewisburg; and a daughter Christine Kamon of Reading.

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