A viral selfie documenting one woman’s skin cancer treatment prompted record high Google searches for prevention of the condition, a study has found. Tawny Willoughby was 27 years old when she posted the graphic snap on Facebook, which showed her scarred and scab-laden face alongside the caption “this is what skin cancer treatment can look like”.
The 2015 post, since shared over 105,000 times, triggered a wave of media coverage akin to that typically garnered by celebrity health stories. “If anyone needs a little motivation to not lay in the tanning bed and sun, here ya go (sic),” Willoughby’s post began. She frequently used tanning beds as a teen and was diagnosed with skin cancer at 21.
She explained that as a high school student in the US she would sometimes tan up to four times a week, which she has since acknowledged as excessive.
At the time of posting, she had basal cell carcinoma and visited the dermatologist biannually. She added that she did not have melanoma, which can be deadly, and was keen to explain that skin cancer does not necessarily manifest itself in moles but can leave sufferers with scars.
According to the study, published in the journal ‘Preventive Medicine’ on Monday, Willoughby’s post generated a 162% boost in Google searches of the terms “skin” and “cancer”.
At the peak of her story’s news coverage, there were record levels of searches for “skin cancer”, with 229,000 searches for the term in just one week, the study found.
Co-author John Ayers, public health researcher at San Diego State University, US, hopes the study will encourage public health experts to engage more in social media, reports ‘Live Science’. Posts like Willoughby’s can help raise awareness of underreported conditions that could help prevent illnesses, the study concluded. THE INDEPENDENT