Children should play key cancer control role

Children should play key cancer control role
About 100 volunteers, including staff from the National Cancer Centre, showed their heartfelt commitment to promoting public education on cancer by distributing free bags of apples.

Prevention, screening, treatment and palliative care are the four common pillars of the global fight against cancer. Yet, advanced cancers require highly complex treatments that are usually burdensome on patients and family members. Such therapies often yield disappointing outcomes despite entailing huge medical expenses.

To optimize the anticancer fight, we need to place more emphasis on prevention and screening. As part of this approach, cancer education has already been developed exclusively for adults. However, contrary to all expectations, such education has not resulted in a significant decrease in the number of smokers and a sufficient increase in screening rates.

In general, adults are aware of the hazards of smoking and the importance of cancer screening, but a large number of them still shy away from dealing seriously with cancer prevention on their own. They often find it hard to stop smoking and are negligent about being screened, saying, "I'm too busy," "I'm healthy" or "I will go to the hospital when I have to." When actually diagnosed with cancer, they are stunned. This is terrible for society in which one in two people becomes a victim of the disease.

Alarmed by the situation, an increasing number of people now think it is too late for us to learn about cancer only after we become adults. In other words, it is time to provide children with cancer education. I was once asked to give three days of extensive cancer education to middle and high school students, who showed an astonishing level of understanding about the importance of cancer prevention.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry aims to educate middle and high school students about cancer. In fact, the relationship between lifestyle behaviour and diseases is referred to in the Courses of Study, a series of official guidelines for school education set by the ministry. But some people say cancer education at the middle and high school level is not sufficient or pervasive. Therefore, I want to touch on cancer education for children, including primary school students.

In this connection, the March 28, 2014, issue of the US journal Science published an interesting dissertation on quality early child development that was based on more than three decades of data. In the research, children up to the age of 5 were initially divided into two groups - those who received special treatment and those who did not. The former group was offered special curriculum programs, from high-quality early child education to support for good-quality play, to target language, social-emotional and cognitive development. The other group did not receive such intervention.

When the children reached ages 6 to 8, the two groups were divided again with the recipients of special curriculum programs being offered further courses, based on home-school resources, to improve mathematics skills and cognitive functioning, while the other group received ordinary school education. In the project, the health of the subjects when they became adults were observed and analysed.

The project's findings showed that the blood pressure of those who had participated in the intervention group was significantly lower that the nonintervention group when they were in their mid-30s. In addition, the same group had far fewer cases of obesity as measured by body mass index (BMI). The findings show that the benefits of early educational intervention in childhood persist into the mid-30s in regard to health.

In the past, it was recognised that such intervention was effective in making young people less prone to turn to crime and more positive toward continuing their education, leading to a better living standard. As far as I know, the findings published in Science may be the first evidence about the effects of early educational intervention on health.

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