Friday 27th November 2015

Read the full article here

Last year, Teenage Cancer Trust and the Scottish government's Detect Cancer Early Programme commissioned research into the impact of educating young people about cancer. The research was evaluated by The University of Stirling concluded that our school-based cancer education sessions are an effective and impactful way to improve awareness of the signs of cancer in young people, improve knowledge of cancer prevention, and improve communication about cancer.

Knowledge increased by a third

The evaluation found that students' knowledge of the warning signs of cancer increased by nearly a third (30%). For example, before one of our 50 minute education sessions, less than half of students (44%) knew that changes in a mole can be a warning sign of cancer. After our session, nearly three quarters (74%) identified it correctly. Similarly, less than half of the students knew getting sunburnt when you’re young can be a risk factor for skin cancer in later life. After our education session, two thirds, (66.9%) identified this risk factor successfully, which is an increase of a quarter of students getting it right (26%). Seeing increases like this in these specific risks is very important because incidences of skin cancer in teenagers and young adults are rising.

The same is true for being overweight as a risk factor for cancer. Before our education session, less than half (41%) knew that being overweight was a risk factor for cancer. After the session, nearly two thirds (67%) identified this correctly, which is again an increase of a quarter (26%) of students getting this right. This is very important given the increasing levels of obesity in the UK.

The study also found that young people are nearly three times (2.7) more likely to discuss cancer after a 50 minute education session compared to the control group. This important for breaking down the barriers and taboos that surround cancer.

Why is this important

Improving awareness of the signs of cancer, cancer prevention and cancer communication can help to save lives. It can lead to earlier diagnosis which is a key way to increase survival and improve young people’s experience of cancer. Improved awareness can also help to stop cancer before it starts, and break down fears about cancer.

Summary of results

The study involved 20 secondary schools in Scotland and over 2000 young people. It was a cluster randomised control trial which is the most robust method of evaluation. The main findings were:

Improved recognition of cancer warning signs

After one of our 50 minute education sessions recognition of all of the key warning signs of cancer improved. There were particularly significant increases in signs that were not commonly known before the session. For example:

  • Recognition of ‘unexplained weight loss’ as a sign of cancer increased by 36%
  • Recognition of ‘change in appearance of a mole’ as a sign of cancer increased by 30%
  • Recognition of ‘unexplained pain’ as a sign of cancer increased by 19%

Recognition of cancer risk factors improved

After one of our 50 minute education sessions recognition of cancer risk factors improved. For example:

  • Recognition of ‘being sunburnt when young’ as a risk factor for cancer increase by 26%
  • Recognition of ‘being overweight’ as a risk factor for cancer increased by 26%
  • Recognition of ‘getting sunburnt’ as a risk factor for cancer increased by 26%
  • Recognition of ‘HPV infection’ as a risk factor for cancer increased by 15%

Three times more likely to talk about cancer

The study also found that barriers to help-seeking decreased. The number of young people who talked to others about cancer increased three-fold after one of our cancer education sessions, with students 2.7 times more likely to discuss cancer after an intervention compared to the control group.