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A woman may have saved lives with her skin cancer selfie

Netdoctor (UK) logo Netdoctor (UK) 13/12/2017 Natasha Rigler
A woman may have saved lives with her skin cancer selfie © VOISIN/PHANIE / Getty A woman may have saved lives with her skin cancer selfie

Warning: Contains graphic content

Back in 2015, Tawny Willoughby was aged 27 and being treated for skin cancer.

Having used sunbeds up to four times a week in her high school days, she was first diagnosed with the disease at just 21 years old. Over the course of the next six years, Tawny was treated for basal cell carcinoma a total of five times and squamous cell carcinoma once.

One day, following yet another gruelling session with her dermatologist, Tawny decided to pose for a selfie. The picture showed in graphic detail angry red scabs covering her skin, but that was the whole point of it.

Posting the picture on Facebook, the mum-of-one warned: "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. Don't let tanning prevent you from seeing your children grow up. That's my biggest fear now that I have a two year old little boy of my own."

Tawny [now Dzierzek], from Kentucky, US, explained that she didn't have melanoma, which can be deadly, but warned that non-malignant skin cancer can still result in facial disfigurement.

Tawny's picture - and stark message - soon went viral and has, to date, been shared more than 105,000. However, more importantly, it is likely to have saved many lives.

A new study, published in Preventative Medicine this week, has found that Tawny's selfie sparked a whopping 162 per cent increase in Google searches for the words 'skin' and 'cancer'. In the week after she posted it, the term 'skin cancer' was searched for a staggering 229,000 times.

The study says: "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."

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