How do anatomical pathologists protect themselves in the sun?

Summer is a great time to relax at the beach and enjoy the outdoors. However, too much sun can damage your skin, eyes, and immune system.

Anatomical Pathologists make diagnoses of skin cancer  – much of their work involves analysing biopsies for melanoma and determining suitable treatment.

We spoke to three anatomical pathologists to get their insights on skin cancer and sun safety.

Dr Penny Yarrow

As an Anatomical Pathologist and a mother of two, Dr Penny Yarrow has spent many years teaching the value of Slip, Slop, Slap.

“With kids, I think it’s crucial to set good examples at a young age. I have a daughter and a son who have been taught to wear hats and sunscreen since they were toddlers. They are both very wary of sun burn as a result.”

Throughout her career, Penny has diagnosed thousands of skin cancers and melanomas in people of all ages.

”Skin cancer isn’t just a threat to older adults, it is a multi-generational health issue, affecting grandparents, parents and even teenagers. Much of the sun damage to our skin that causes skin cancers in later life occurs during our teenage years so it’s essential that we teach our kids to be sun smart throughout childhood and adolescence.”

Dr Nick Musgrave

Nick Musgrave has experienced skin cancer both in the lab and in his personal life.

”I’ve had more skin cancers than the average Anatomical Pathologist! Being fair skinned and growing up in Queensland has its consequences and it’s taught me that prevention is critical.”

Nick is a strong advocate for skin checks, particularly for those with a genetic predisposition to skin cancer.

”Anyone with lots of freckles and moles or with a family history of skin cancer should get a professional skin check once per year. In Queensland, 2 out of 3 people will have skin cancer before the age of 70 so it’s important to be aware of your risk.”

While the statistics are concerning, Nick is encouraged by advances in pathology which have helped improve treatment of melanoma.

“Thanks to BRAF mutation testing, we can identify a patient’s genetic blueprint and guide targeted therapy for melanoma.

Genetic testing has had a dramatic improvement on the prognosis for patients who have melanoma that’s already spread. With advances in genetic testing, the hope is that melanoma will become more of a chronic disease than a fatal one.”

Dr David Clift

When David Clift was growing up in the 1950s, people had less knowledge of sun safety.

“It was very common for people to get plenty of sunburns, peeling and even blistering burns so it is no surprise that melanoma rates have doubled in the last 20 years and we are seeing 80% of all melanomas on 50+ year old Australians, who grew up not using sunscreen”, he says.

David has noticed that a greater public awareness of skin cancer has helped to improve patient outcomes.

“During the summer months in the lab, we see a much larger volume of skin cancer cases. People are showing more skin and noticing new moles that were never there before. Rather than ignoring it, they’re going to their doctor and getting treatment early and that can save their life.”

A keen sailor, David is always careful to protect himself on the water.

”Skin cancer is very common on the neck and ears so I always wear a hat with a legionnaire scarf to protect those areas.”