Research commissioned by The Eve Appeal in 2018 found that two thirds of UK parents want to see their children taught about cancer in schools. Parents know that an awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer is vital for their children – but the research showed that a third of them felt uncomfortable talking about cancer at home.
Parents want to see an end to girls and boys being split into different groups to discuss body issues – with nearly two thirds preferring that they are taught about these issues together. Whilst over half of parents felt that think boys should be taught about gynae health issues – and when asked why they suggested that it would be useful for boys to know for possible future partners, friends or daughters.
We are launching our Put Cancer on the Curriculum campaign, calling for the government’s new draft guidance on relationships and health education to include education on cancer, along with enhanced anatomical body knowledge.
The Put Cancer on the Curriculum campaign responds to the current Government consultation on Relationships, Sex and Health Education launched in July and ongoing until 7 November.
Athena Lamnisos, Chief Executive of The Eve Appeal, said: “We want the next generation of children to be armed with knowledge that can help save lives. 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 – especially with gynae cancers – and preventing cancer is what we, and parents, all want to see.
“Our priority now is to leverage the government’s current focus on this area of education and to ensure that life-saving knowledge that will bolster health prevention are built in. 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 understands that talking to children about issues such as reproductive health and cancer must be handled sensitively and in an age-appropriate fashion, but their priority now is to leverage the government’s planned new Relationships (and Sex) education and Health education guidelines and pollinate the UK education system with what could be life-saving knowledge.
Dr Bella Smith, an NHS GP, said: “If we can talk to children openly, honestly and without embarrassment they can learn what is normal in their development and in their health. This teaches them to take responsibility for their own health and to be in control of their bodies. 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.”
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, Deborah said: “As a former deputy head teacher I feel strongly that schools already carry a huge burden of responsibility in picking up the threads of health and relationship education where parents seem either unwilling or unable to do so. Yet as a mum and somebody living with cancer, I also 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 kick-start a cancer education programme that is taught in an age-appropriate way, with enhanced body knowledge and awareness included for girls and boys. 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.