Every student in Scotland should learn about cancer

4th May 2018 at 00:00
A cancer awareness programme run by Teenage Cancer Trust is on target to visit 80 per cent of Scottish schools this year – but we must make sure that no child misses out on this vital education, writes one MSP

WE ARE celebrating the Year of Young People in Scotland – but one week at the end of March was particularly important for young people with cancer. Together with Teenage Cancer Trust, I hosted a reception in Holyrood where we were joined by members of the Scottish government, MSPs and charity representatives to raise the profile of the trust’s Education and Awareness programme. I also secured a debate in Parliament to discuss cancer education for young people in Scotland more widely (you can read the Tes Scotland coverage at bit.ly/TCTmackay).

Over 2,600 young people are diagnosed with cancer each year across the UK – the equivalent of seven every day – while around the same number again will continue to receive care for cancer or relapse. It is the most common cause of non-accidental death in young people, and those who are living with or beyond cancer continue to need ongoing support. Into adulthood, cancer can affect up to half of us. But we also know that four in 10 cancers can be prevented by lifestyle choices.

This is why cancer education and awareness are so important.

Teenage Cancer Trust travels the UK to deliver cancer-awareness sessions, and in Scotland it is on track to reach an incredible 80 per cent of schools this year. But I want it to be able to reach every secondary school and every young person in the country.

No one should miss out on these presentations, which cover vital topics, including how cancer starts, how to identify early-warning signs, types of cancer treatments and ways to reduce the risk of cancer.

The programme transforms young people’s understanding of cancer, leading to better conversations and breaking down fears. By spreading awareness of cancer signs, the ultimate impact is that it will help to prevent cancer and increase the chances of earlier diagnoses. A 2016-17 impact report by Opinion Leader Research for Teenage Cancer Trust showed that 93 per cent of students surveyed said that the presentation had increased their knowledge and understanding of the warning signs of cancer, while 67 per cent said it had made them feel more confident about visiting a doctor or nurse to talk about their health.

The evidence speaks for itself, and the Scottish strategy to tackle cancer, Beating Cancer: Ambition and Action, recommends the programme.

Equipping secondary school students with the knowledge they need to seek help if they need it now, as well as to protect their health in later life, is an opportunity we must embrace. Teenage Cancer Trust has led the way with this crucial programme so far, but we must go further. Let’s make cancer education even more widespread – so that every school and every young person across our nation can be reached.

Rona Mackay is the Scottish National Party MSP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden

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