Sex education is currently going through big changes in England. If your experiences at school were anything like mine, sex education was almost non-existent, and what little there was created more questions than it answered. But I’m happy to say that after years of campaigning from various organisations, sex education was finally made compulsory in England last year. Now the government is in the process of creating a curriculum and is asking for your thoughts on how they can improve the draft guidance that’s already been created until early November.
That’s why The Eve Appeal is using this window of consultation to call on the government to Put Cancer on the Curriculum. Whilst you may not have initially linked cancer and sex education, they actually have a lot in common. The Eve Appeal are asking for enhanced body knowledge, information about the HPV vaccination and cervical cancer screening, as well as cancer signs and symptoms to be put on the curriculum, in order to give children and young people a better understanding about their bodies and health and help to bust some of the taboos surrounding sexual health.
Through their research, The Eve Appeal have discovered that nearly a third of parents feel uncomfortable talking about cancer with their children and more than half of parents believe that a cancer curriculum should include gynaecological awareness. So here’s five things that you should have learnt about gynaecological cancers in sex education.
What are the five gynaecological cancers?
There are five gynaecological cancers: womb, ovarian, cervical, vaginal and vulval. Every year 21,000 women are diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer and sadly 21 women will die of one of these cancers every day.
What signs and symptoms should I be aware of?
Each of the gynaecological cancers have different symptoms but there are some key ones to be aware of. Abnormal bleeding or discharge, including bleeding after sex and at times other than your period should be checked out by your GP. Other symptoms include persistent bloating (for more than 3 weeks), feeling full quickly, unexplained changes in bowel habits and persistent pain in the abdominal, vaginal and pelvic regions. Vulval cancer (cancer of the external female genitalia, often mistakenly called the vagina) can often be spotted through pain or itching and physical changes such as a lump, swelling, changing mole, growth or red, white or dark patches of skin on the vulva. If you have any of these symptoms or are concerned about your gynaecological health, don’t hesitate to talk to your GP.
What is HPV and why is the vaccination important?
HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), is the name of a group of viruses, some of which can be spread through sex and cause some types of cancer. The HPV vaccination is offered to girls aged 12-13 in the UK in order to protect against the types of HPV which cause cervical cancer. The vaccination will soon be rolled out to boys of the same age in England. This is an important way to protect yourself against HPV and reduce your risk of some types of cancer. If you have received the vaccination you still need to attend your cervical screening as required.
What is cervical screening?
The cervical screening programme or smear test is a test offered to women from age 25 in order to test for abnormal cells from the surface of the cervix (entrance to the womb). These cells, if found, could indicate a risk for cervical cancer or rarely, cancer itself. Cervical screening is an important preventative measure for cancer and you should attend your screening every three to five years (depending on your age).
Sex education is changing. If you agree that we should Put Cancer on the Curriculum, you can find out more information and sign The Eve Appeal’s pledge here.