One Kentucky woman is being counted in a class with Angelina Jolie after sharing graphic selfies of her skin cancer helped inspire more people to get screened for the deadly disease.
When Angelina Jolie went public about her preventative double mastectomy in 2013, it sparked a sea change. Thanks to the face-the-facts discussion she started by sharing the intimate details of her medical history, the number of women who got tested for the BRCA 1/2 gene over the following two years doubled, according to a 2014 study published in the journal Breast Cancer Research. Researchers called it the “Angelina Effect.”
Now, researchers are observing a similar phenomenon in the wake of a graphic photo posted by Tawny Willoughby in 2015, reports the Daily Mail.
Willoughby, a frequent user of tanning beds who was diagnosed with skin cancer when she was 21-years-old, posted a graphic selfie showing an extremely blistered face that resulted from treatment for her battle with basal cell carcinoma. “If anyone needs a little motivation to not lay in the tanning bed and sun here ya go! This is what skin cancer treatment can look like. Wear sunscreen and get a spray tan. Learn from other people’s mistakes,” she wrote in a post that was shared over 105,000 times.
Similar to the Angelina Effect, Willoughby’s story served as a PSA for getting regular skin checks. According to a study published in the journal Preventative Medicine, her post prompted a 162 percent boost in Google searches for the terms “skin” and “cancer” and a 147 percent spike in searches including the words “prevent” or “prevention.” At the peak of the coverage, searches for “skin cancer” spiked to record levels — 229,000 searches in one week, according to the study.
What’s particularly interesting about Willoughby’s case is that unlike Jolie, she’s just your average social media user — an argument for the power a simple social media post can have. “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,” the study states.
The moral of the story (besides the fact that tanning causes skin cancer) is that social media can be a powerful platform for health PSAs. Where even the most convincing studies and statistics can seem dry, you can’t really argue with a graphic photo shared on social media. Seeing the damage with your own eyes is enough to make you reach for the sunscreen.
For the latest skin cancer news:
- This New Device May Be the Secret to Diagnosing Skin Cancer
- This Woman Found Out She Had Skin Cancer With The Help of An App
- This Woman’s “Blackhead” Turned Out to Be Skin Cancer
Now, find out how to tan safely: