A YOUNG skin cancer survivor’s graphic selfie triggered a surge in people checking for abnormal moles.
Much like when Angelina Jolie revealed she had a double mastectomy when she found out she had the BRCA, there was a 160 per cent surge in the amount of people searching the internet for “skin cancer” when Tawny Willoughby shared her picture.
In the selfie, shared in April 2015, 27-year-old Tawny’s face is covered in scabs and scars caused by skin cancer treatment after years of regularly using tanning beds up to five times a week.
“This is what skin-cancer treatment can look like,” she wrote when she posted it.
“If anyone needs a little motivation to not lay in the tanning bed and sun here ya go!”
Tens of thousands of people shared the Kentucky nurse’s post.
Now, a new study published in the journal Preventative Medicine, has determined just how much of an impact her photo had.
According to researchers there was a 162 per cent rise in the number of Google searches for skin cancer in May, which coincided with the story attracting the attention of hundreds of media outlets.
In between May 13 and 18, 2015 there were as many as 229,000 searchers for the term “skin cancer”, according to Live Science.
They also found that searches for “skin cancer prevention”, “tan”, and “tanning” were also higher around the same time, suggesting people were researching how dangerous their tanning habit is.
Tawny’s post gained attention from the public after it was shared in 161 news reports online, on TV and in magazines.
John Ayers, a public health researcher at San Diego State University and author of the study, said her selfie likely had a high impact because it was real life.
“The public may get tired of hearing the same old health messages coming from experts, but in the age of social media people don’t have to guess what skin cancer can do to your face, they can see it in a selfie.”
He also noted that doctors may be able to use this effect to further educate people about diseases when they are being discussed in the public realm.
The popularity of Tawny’s post is similar to when Angelina Jolie announced she had undergone a double mastectomy after she discovered she had the BRCA gene.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 produce tumour suppressor proteins, which raise the risk of DNA damage to cells and therefore the risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
Jolie’s announcement caused a surge in women getting tested for the gene as a preventative measure for cancer.
A similar thing happened in 2015 when Charlie Sheen announced he was HIV positive.
Following his revelation there was an increase in HIV testing and internet searches.
The study concluded: “We conclude that an ordinary person’s social media post caught the public’s imagination and led to significant increases in public engagement with skin cancer prevention.
“Digital surveillance methods can rapidly detect these events in near real time, allowing public health practitioners to engage and potentially elevate positive effects.”
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