How much do you think pre-teens and teenagers know about breast cancer? Do they know as much as they should? Well you might be interested to find out what these young girls themselves actually think—their answers may surprise you.
The University of Portsmouth, St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and the University of Chichester recently did a joint research project in which they passed out a survey to about 2,000 girls aged 11 to 18 to find out what they thought about the subject of breast cancer and breast cancer education.
When the results came in, it was discovered that a whopping 72% of these schoolgirls wanted to know more about breast cancer than what they had been taught in school and at home. On top of that, a full 40% of those who said they did not want to know more about breast cancer still rated the topic as “extremely important,” and nearly 30% of all the girls actually believed they may already have breast cancer.
So why are girls so worried about breast cancer? The answer appears to be a simple lack of education. School-aged girls have heard about breast cancer and know just enough to make them scared of it, but they aren’t receiving enough information about how to prevent breast cancer and what signs to look for that cancer may be present.
This lack of education about breast cancer is having an even worse effect on young girls who come from segments of the population where breast health education is poorer than for most demographics. The survey showed that African American girls and girls of other ethnic minorities were three times more likely to rate breast cancer as a topic that was “not important” for them to learn about, despite the fact that black women tend to develop cancer earlier in life, have lower survival rates, and develop dangerous triple-negative breast cancers more often than white women. Other ethnic minorities also suffer unnecessarily from breast cancer due to social stigma and a tendency to avoid routine screenings and mammograms.
In a similar survey of 2,500 girls aged 8-18, over 20% thought breast cancer was caused by infection, tanning, drug use, stress, and breast injury or bruising, none of which are risk factors. The girls surveyed knew very little about preventing or detecting breast cancer. And again, roughly 30% worried that they already had breast cancer, possibly mistaking natural puberty-related changes for cancer.
The takeaway here is that more breast health education is needed all around. Some may balk at the idea of adding breast health to public school curriculums, but we think it’s about time. It’s time to replace fear with facts so girls can stop worrying and start doing something proactive to prevent breast cancer and get diagnosed and treated early if they develop it.
For those who know enough to be worried that they are going to get breast cancer, this type of education will help them develop good breast health habits and prevent cancer and fear. And for those who don’t know enough to be concerned in the first place, breast health education will teach them valuable information they can hopefully share with their families and communities about what to look for and how to prevent cancer.
As many as 46% of women do not regularly check their breasts for abnormalities. Adolescence is a great time for girls to develop and practice good breast-health habits that will serve them for the rest of their lives, such as monthly self-exams. A little education could go a long way toward increasing women’s knowledge about breast cancer so that more cancers can be prevented or treated early.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?