Thousands of secondary pupils are missing out on “vital” cancer education that could save their lives, the Scottish health secretary has warned.
MSPs taking part in a parliamentary debate yesterday evening heard that a fifth of secondary schools were not taking part in a free programme provided by the Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT) that alerts pupils to signs and symptoms of the disease.
In March 2016, the Scottish government published a national cancer strategy, including a commitment to roll out the TCT’s Education and Awareness programme in Scottish schools.
Health secretary Shona Robison said in Parliament yesterday that she knew of “schools which have not taken up the offer of the Teenage Cancer Trust’s resource”, and told all MSPs that they should investigate the situation in their area.
She added that she would ask education officials to raise awareness of the trust’s work in schools so that all young people could benefit.
Rona Mackay, SNP MSP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden, said: “Currently, 80 per cent of schools in Scotland are benefiting from TCT education and awareness talks. That is an incredible proportion, but it needs to be higher. The 20 per cent of young people who are missing out on talks is too significant an amount to be ignored. I want the TCT’s programme to be delivered in all secondary schools in Scotland, because it will save lives.”
Yesterday’s debate was triggered by a motion from Ms Mackay, which stated that 40 per cent of adulthood cancers were preventable and that there was “more to be done to protect the next generation”. She called for all MSPs to work together “to ensure that every school in Scotland…can help pupils to receive the cancer education that they need”.
Helping pupils to recognise symptoms of cancer
Ms Mackay said: “Every year in Scotland, about 200 young people are diagnosed with cancer and, although there have been improvements in survival, cancer in this age group remains a significant problem. For several tumour types, cancer survival rates are lower for teenagers and young adults than they are for children, and research has linked delays in diagnosis with some of the differences.”
She said it was “incredible” that the TCT – which could make an “immeasurable” difference to young people’s lives – was the only UK charity “providing expert care and support for young people who have been diagnosed with cancer”. She added that it also enables pupils “to become more aware of changes in their bodies and to recognise symptoms of cancer”.
Ms Mackay said that the trust also provides “vital support in adjusting back into life after cancer”, including help to go back to school or further education.
“The knowledge that [pupils] gain from the talks helps them to identify changes in their bodies that could be signs of cancer, and to notice signs of cancer in friends and family members that those people might not notice themselves," she said. "Just last year, a Teenage Cancer Trust survey found that 67 per cent of students said that the presentation made them feel more confident about visiting a GP or nurse to talk about their health...Our young people’s health can only benefit if the programme of talks reaches more schools throughout Scotland.”
Lothian Conservative MSP Miles Briggs said 100 per cent coverage of schools was important, as University of Stirling research had shown that, after taking part in the programme, three times as many young people talked to others about cancer.
Glasgow Labour MSP Anas Sarwar said: “We can do more.” He added that bringing the programme to all secondary schools could help to deliver “a generational shift in cancer treatment”.