Despite cancer rates rising in the UK, too many schoolchildren are ignorant of its causes and consequences, according to a new survey by cancer charity Macmillan.
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The majority of the 500 nine-16 year olds it polled didn’t know that sunburn can cause cancer, raising calls for more teaching about the illness in schools. More reassuringly 91 per cent were aware that smoking is a cancer cause.
A small proportion of the children thought they could get cancer from bad behavior, while 4 per cent thought it could be caught from someone else.
And though two third of the children knew someone who has been diagnosed with cancer, many didn’t not seem to fully understand what it really means. More than half said the word ‘cancer’ makes them feel frightened.
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To encourage teachers to talk to children about cancer, rather than shying away from the subject or trying to protect them, Macmillan has created an information pack called ‘Talking about cancer’ with lesson planning ideas and advice.
"In many ways, it's still a bit of a taboo subject. Not all teachers feel confident about talking about it or know where to get the facts and figures from,” said Katherine Donnelly from the charity.
"The results showed that as children got older there was a slight increase in the number of those that had been taught about cancer, but not a hugely significant number.
"As cancer affects more and more people, the chances of children knowing someone with the condition grows - be that their grandparent, parent or friend. This can be really distressing and they may feel too worried to ask questions.”
She added: "Just over a quarter of children have been taught about cancer at school and this needs to improve."