The small-scale survey of 1,000 UK parents also found that nearly a third feel uncomfortable talking about cancer with their children. More than half (61%) felt this should be taught in a PHSE lesson.
A further 77% of parents feel children should be encouraged to talk about the possible signs and symptoms of cancer, with the majority of them (75%) believing it would help to break down any associated stigmas.
The Eve Appeal, a charity dedicated to raising awareness of the five gynaecological cancers, commissioned the research and is today [30 August] launching its ‘Put Cancer on the Curriculum’ campaign, calling for the Government’s new draft guidance on relationships and health education to include education on cancer and enhanced anatomical body knowledge.
“We want the next generation of children to be armed with knowledge that can help save lives,” said Athena Lamnisos, chief executive of The Eve Appeal. “A child’s relationship with their body is the longest one they will have – and we want schools to teach them how to respect and understand it. We know early diagnosis is imperative to a better outcome for patients and preventing cancer is what we, and parents, all want to see.”
Lamnisos said the charity’s priority is to leverage the Government’s current focus on this area of education and to ensure that this knowledge is built in. “We’re recommending that basic body knowledge is included from age seven and that cancer screening, prevention and signs and symptoms education begins at age 10,” she added. “It’s essential that these issues are taught in both age appropriate and taboo-busting ways. We must increase knowledge and reduce embarrassment.”
The charity said they understand that talking to children about issues such as reproductive health and cancer must be handled sensitively and in an age-appropriate fashion.
In response to the campaign, Dr Bella Smith, an NHS GP, said making children more aware of their health can only be a good thing. “If we can talk to children openly, honestly and without embarrassment they can learn what is normal in their development and in their health,” she said. “We don’t need to scare them, in fact, the more aware of their health they are, and the more that they are comfortable discussing their health, the more likely they will be able to detect an abnormality early. This is so critical for parts of the body that might be seen as ‘embarrassing’ to talk about.”
If we can talk to children openly, honestly and without embarrassment they can learn what is normal in their development and in their health." NHS GP
Deborah James is a mum-of-two and former deputy head teacher who was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer at the age of 35, which has now advanced to stage 4. Backing the campaign, she said: “As a mum and somebody living with cancer, I feel it’s imperative kids are educated in respect of their bodies, hard as those conversations may be. I had no idea the symptoms I was experiencing prior to my diagnosis were classic symptoms of bowel cancer.
“Perhaps if a cancer education programme was fully immersed into the curriculum when I was at school, things may have turned out very differently for me. This campaign is critical because it tackles a lot of taboos at once: certain parts of the body for example. I feel we need to do everything to break the culture of embarrassment around gynae health.”
The aim of the campaign is to kickstart a cancer education programme that begins at Key Stage 2, with basic anatomical and body awareness included. The Eve Appeal also believes it is vital that boys and girls learn about the benefits of the HPV Vaccination Programme, which is due to be rolled out to boys as well as girls, and yet is currently not mentioned in the draft guidelines, as well as the cervical cancer screening programme.