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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 27 March 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Fair Start Scotland, City Region Deals, Decision Time, Cancer Awareness for Young People


Cancer Awareness for Young People

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The final item of business is a member’s business debate on motion S5M-11056, in the name of Rona Mackay, on cancer awareness for young people. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament understands that 40% of cancers in adulthood are preventable; notes the view therefore that there is a need to make sure that every young person is educated about cancerous signs and symptoms; commends the vital work carried out already by Teenage Cancer Trust through its Education and Awareness programme in schools to empower young people to take control of their own health, and notes the calls for more to be done to protect the next generation and for Members to work together to ensure that every school in Scotland, including in the Strathkelvin and Bearsden constituency, can help pupils to receive the cancer education that they need, particularly with 2018 being the Year of Young People.


Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

I am pleased to bring the debate to the chamber, and I thank my colleagues in the chamber for their support. To our guests from the Teenage Cancer Trust in the gallery, I extend a warm welcome.

I am sure that we have all seen and heard the advertisements from the wonderful McMillan Cancer Support: “A dad with cancer is still a dad”. Well, a teenager with cancer is still a teenager. At a time when they have to cope with incredible physical and hormonal changes, adding cancer to the mix simply magnifies the stress and confusion that the young person has to deal with.

I find it incredible that the Teenage Cancer Trust is the only—I repeat, only—United Kingdom charity that is dedicated to providing expert care and support for young people who have been diagnosed with cancer.

Founded in 1990, with its ambassador in Scotland being the fabulous Kevin Bridges, it provides support in Scotland through specialist units in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Young people can be treated in an informal and homely environment, where they are surrounded by other young people who are going through exactly the same thing. They also get vital support in adjusting back into life after cancer, whether that be help into employment, to go back to school or further education, or mental health counselling.

I have a close friend who benefited from the unique and excellent support that is given by the Teenage Cancer Trust unit at the Beatson west of Scotland cancer centre in Glasgow. She was so inspired and grateful that she now volunteers there to raise awareness and spread the word about prevention and early intervention.

I visited the unit and saw at first hand the life-altering impact that the right care and support can have on our young people who are dealing with cancer, whether it is having a TCT staff member to talk to, a specialist nurse to explain each step of their treatment plan to them, meeting someone the same age who also has cancer, or their youth support co-ordinator ordering them a pizza or watching television with them when they are feeling down. All that is done in a non-clinical setting, with games consoles and sofas in bright and attractive surroundings. That is all designed to take the edge off for young people who are coping with their treatment, by creating teenager-friendly familiar surroundings. Those are the support mechanisms that the TCT provides in our country to ensure that no teenager or young adult faces cancer alone.

The Teenage Cancer Trust has a significant presence in Scotland. In 2016, in Edinburgh, the First Minister addressed the first global adolescent and young adult cancer congress. Of course, our Government introduced the first cancer strategy for young people, and led the way for the rest of the UK.

It is not just old people who get cancer. Every year in Scotland, about 200 young people are diagnosed with cancer and, although there have been improvements in survival, cancer in this age group remains a significant problem. For several tumour types, cancer survival rates are lower for teenagers and young adults than they are for children, and research has linked delays in diagnosis with some of the differences.

The year 2018 is the year of young people. We must do whatever we can to empower young people to recognise changes in their bodies, and we must encourage young people to feel able to discuss such changes with their general practitioners. Delays in diagnosis should not be accepted as a reason for lower survival rates in the age group that we are talking about.

The Teenage Cancer Trust’s education and awareness programme informs young people, thereby enabling them to become more aware of changes in their bodies and to recognise symptoms of cancer. Members of the Scottish Parliament can help in that regard, right now. I took the TCT’s approach to East Dunbartonshire Council; now every secondary school in my constituency has signed up for the charity’s education and awareness talks. It was surprisingly easy to achieve that, and I was delighted by the authority’s enthusiasm for the idea.

The difference that the programme can make to young people in our constituencies is immeasurable. The knowledge that they gain from the talks helps them to identify changes in their bodies that could be signs of cancer, and to notice signs of cancer in friends and family members that those people might not notice themselves.

Just last year, a Teenage Cancer Trust survey found that 67 per cent of students said that the presentation made them feel more confident about visiting a GP or nurse to talk about their health. The figure speaks for itself and cannot be ignored. Our young people’s health can only benefit if the programme of talks reaches more schools throughout Scotland.

Currently, 80 per cent of schools in Scotland are benefiting from TCT education and awareness talks. That is an incredible proportion, but it needs to be higher. The 20 per cent of young people who are missing out on talks is too significant an amount to be ignored. I want the TCT’s programme to be delivered in all secondary schools in Scotland, because it will save lives.

Many other organisations are doing their bit to raise awareness. Action on Smoking & Health Scotland has developed “Scotland’s charter for a tobacco-free generation”, which includes six principles to support children to grow up free from the harm that smoking causes. Principle 4 is:

“every child has the right to effective education that equips them to make informed positive choices on tobacco and health”.

I could not agree more.

Cancer is not and should not be a polarising issue. It should unite us. We have a prime opportunity to reduce delays in cancer diagnosis and to improve outcomes for young people with cancer. If the Teenage Cancer Trust’s education programme helps even one young person in Scotland to get early diagnosis and have a higher chance of survival, it will have been a success.

I urge members to take information about the Teenage Cancer Trust’s education and awareness talks to their local authorities, so that talks can take place Scotland wide. Members who want to know more about the programme and about which schools use it in their areas should attend the reception that I will host in the Parliament tomorrow evening, when the programme will be brought to life by young people who have benefited from it.

This is the year of young people. Let us do what we can to empower young people to recognise the signs of cancer. Let this generation be more informed than we were, because that knowledge has the power to save lives.


Tom Arthur (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

I thank Rona Mackay for securing the debate and I join her in welcoming representatives from the Teenage Cancer Trust to Parliament. I hope to get along to the reception tomorrow evening. I will be convening a cross-party group tomorrow, but I hope to catch the last few minutes of the reception.

The Teenage Cancer Trust does fantastic work in providing care and support services. Across the UK it has 28 specialist units in the principal treatment centres for cancer—the one that serves my constituents is, of course, the Beatson west of Scotland cancer centre, on the Gartnavel site.

The TCT also provides 48 nurses and youth support co-ordinators across the UK and has reached 118,000 young people through face-to-face engagement. Rona Mackay talked about the TCT’s work to increase awareness; until I was preparing for the debate I was not aware of its outreach work in schools. I will certainly find out whether schools in my constituency, Renfrewshire South, are aware of the programme, and I will encourage them to engage with the Teenage Cancer Trust.

I also want to acknowledge the many people who dedicate their time or contribute to, raise funds for or support the Teenage Cancer Trust. In particular, I would like to mention Sean McBain, who is a constituent of mine from Neilston in Renfrewshire South. He is now 34 and is originally from Torry in Aberdeen. When he was 20, like many young folk he was outgoing and energetic. He played in a band and was a singer. He was diagnosed with a tumour on his tongue, which would be a terrifying prospect for anyone, but especially for a singer. He has spoken and written about what that experience was like—the fear, the uncertainty and the lack of knowledge about what would happen. However, he had a successful operation to remove the tumour, along with lymph nodes, and was able to go on to make a full recovery.

Some years later, in his early 30s, he engaged in fundraising for the Teenage Cancer Trust. He wrote, recorded and uploaded a song every week for an entire year. I understand that, in the course of doing so, he raised nearly £6,000. I was delighted to be able to recognise Sean’s fantastic efforts and to lodge a parliamentary motion in 2017.

Rona Mackay made a point about engagement with young people to make them aware of signs and symptoms, which is very important. However, clearly the preventative agenda is also a big issue. We know that 40 per cent of cancers are preventable. I understand that 30,000 cancer diagnoses are made each year in Scotland, which means that about 12,000 are potentially preventable.

We also know some of the key causes that are preventable, including smoking, obesity, poor diet, excessive alcohol consumption, excessive ultraviolet exposure from sunlight and, of course, lack of exercise. I welcome the points that were featured in the Scottish Government’s obesity strategy consultation—in particular, the need to be tough on advertising of junk food.

I mentioned smoking: I am just about old enough to remember the last television adverts for cigarettes and cigars, some 28 years ago. Future generations will perhaps look back with equal shock at the pervasiveness of junk food, the accessibility of sugary sweets and confectionery and how they are contributing to the health crisis that we face today on issues such as type 2 diabetes and the link between obesity and the risks of cancer that follow from it, just as our generation looks back on past generations and the pervasiveness of tobacco in advertising and films.

In conclusion, I thank Rona Mackay for bringing this important debate to Parliament.


Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

I congratulate Rona Mackay on securing today’s important debate. As co-convener of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on cancer, I am pleased to be able to take part.

As Rona Mackay said, 2018 is the year of young people, so it is important that we look at how health services are interacting and delivering health services and health and wellbeing information to young people across our country. Like Rona Mackay, I commend the excellent work that is undertaken by the Teenage Cancer Trust and I thank the trust for its useful briefing for this evening’s debate. It is extremely encouraging that the trust’s education and awareness programme is now able to reach 80 per cent of secondary schools in Scotland, and I support its aim of achieving 100 per cent coverage. Research by the University of Stirling indicates the effectiveness of the programme in that, having taken part in it, three times as many young people talk to others about cancer. An Opinion Leader Research report also indicated very positive feedback on the programme from both students and teachers.

Educating our young people about cancer is vital, to enable them to identify the warning signs of cancer, and so improve early diagnosis, and to make informed lifestyle choices that will help to minimise preventable cancers throughout their lives. Although one in two of our young people may now expect to get some form of cancer at some stage in their lives, we really need to get across and emphasise the positive message that 40 per cent of cancers are preventable. Ensuring that young people know the common signs and symptoms of cancer is also vital. It may not be an easy discussion to have with them, but encouraging young people to be familiar with their bodies and to keep an eye out for signs or symptoms that could indicate that something is wrong is incredibly important. As Rona Mackay said, encouraging anyone who notices such signs to see their GP and share their concerns is also very important.

It is equally important for young people to feel confident enough to talk to each other about any concerns and to help to build peer support networks, which can make a real difference. Educating our young people about how cancers can be prevented through balanced diets, not smoking, undertaking physical activity and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption can get the message across to all age groups, as students are then able to speak to their parents and grandparents about the dangers of unhealthy choices.

Research that was published last week by Cancer Research UK suggests that around 13,000 cases of cancer each year in Scotland are preventable; they could be prevented through lifestyle choices and changes. Excessive weight is now the biggest cause of preventable cancer after smoking and one in 20 cancers could be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight. I congratulate Cancer Research UK on its work to get across the message that being overweight or obese is a key risk factor in developing a whole range of cancers. In debates that we have had in the chamber over a number of years about healthy lifestyles and obesity, I have consistently argued that we need to adopt a cross-portfolio approach, linking health and education. That approach must also be adopted in cancer prevention.

The Teenage Cancer Trust’s education awareness work is an extremely good example of the joined-up approach that we need to see. It truly has the potential to save lives and reduce cases of preventable cancer. This debate presents a good opportunity to look at the promotion of health and wellbeing in schools, colleges and universities; my colleague Brian Whittle will address some of those points later.

One of the most positive developments that I have seen for children and young people in Scotland who have been diagnosed with cancer is the managed service network. Cancer is relatively rare in children; as has been outlined, it accounts for less than 1 per cent of all cancers. That equates to around 200 new cancer cases being diagnosed in Scotland every year. The development of the virtual service for children and young people with a diagnosis of cancer is incredibly important. It provides the opportunity for young people to access age-specific information and videos, and it gives them ownership of their health and their cancer, if they are unlucky enough to have that diagnosis. I believe that as the network develops, it will provide an opportunity for young people to share information on their cancer treatment with friends. They will be able to discuss it in a way that no one can really imagine until they have that diagnosis—for a child, even more so.

I wish the Teenage Cancer Trust every success. I hope that we will all continue to support its efforts to inform and educate our young people about cancer, helping them to take control of their health and make the informed choices that will help society as a whole fight back against the preventable conditions that can devastate so many individuals and their families.


Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

I join others in congratulating Rona Mackay on bringing this important debate to the chamber. I am pleased to speak as the co-convener of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on cancer.

This is a hugely important issue. Some statistics show that as many as one in two people will get cancer; others show that as many as one in three people will get cancer at some point in their lives. However, all of us will be touched by cancer in one form or another. I remember speaking to one particular cancer charity, which said that cancer does not affect an individual; it affects a family. I know from my own family’s experiences and my family friends’ experiences that that is absolutely the case. My best friend’s nephew, who is six years old, has been diagnosed with a severe form of cancer. I see at first hand the daily chaos that that brings to that family’s life and the lives of those in the wider family network.

We owe it to all cancer patients to fight for these important issues, partly in relation to education but also in early diagnosis and early treatment. On that basis, I congratulate the Teenage Cancer Trust on all the vital work that it is doing, particularly with our young people. At the same time, I congratulate all our cancer charities on all their incredible work. I think that all parliamentarians from across the chamber would say that the charities do that work right across party lines. They keep us on our toes; they make sure that we have a constant analysis of the cancer strategy and what more we can do, working across party lines. On this important issue, I am sure that we all speak as one when it comes to our united challenge to defeat cancer and to help support all families that are touched by cancer at some point in their lives.

The single biggest determining factor when it comes to survival is, of course, the speed of diagnosis and treatment. That is why raising awareness of cancer, its causes and its signs and symptoms is so important. Although the Government and the national health service have their roles to play, we must recognise that an individual’s awareness and understanding is vital. Almost half of all cancers could be prevented through lifestyle choices. Helping people to understand the causes of cancer will significantly impact on incidence rates in the future as well as on outcomes. That is why I encourage people to go to their GP early, and to seek the advice and intervention that, I hope, could lead to an early diagnosis and a successful outcome.

The education of people across the age spectrum is crucial, but it remains a fact that most of our education takes place in schools. That is why the work of the Teenage Cancer Trust is to be commended. The trust raises awareness of cancer to protect the next generation, and the evidence from its work demonstrates the benefits of early education. Young people are more likely to talk about cancer among their peers, and that will increase the knowledge and understanding of the warning signs of cancer among young people; crucially, it will increase people’s confidence about visiting a doctor or nurse to talk about their health problems. I hope that there will be a generational shift with that approach.

As Rona Mackay’s motion makes clear, it is important that our young people are empowered and given the tools to take control of their lives, not just when they are young but as they grow into adulthood. That will have a lasting impact on reducing cancer rates, speeding up diagnosis and increasing survival rates.

In recent years, charities have made magnificent efforts to raise awareness in campaigns such as the wear it pink for breast cancer campaign, the cover up campaign for skin cancer, and the on-going campaign on the effects of obesity. Yes, Presiding Officer, I checked my baubles for testicular cancer—I am sure that some of us had fun with that over the festive period. Nevertheless, it was a very serious and powerful campaign to educate and raise awareness of the symptoms and causes of cancer.

We can do more. The work of the Teenage Cancer Trust does not yet cover 100 per cent of our schools. I recognise that it covers most schools, but I would like that education programme to be run in every school. We can work across party lines to make that happen, so that there is a generational shift in cancer treatment.

The cancer treatment statistics that were published today show that we still have challenges, but we can resolve collectively to have the best standard of care for cancer patients in Scotland so that we can be a beacon for the rest of the UK and the rest of the world. We must ensure that all our citizens are educated enough to seek advice when they have a symptom, and hope that they get an early diagnosis and treatment.

I congratulate Rona Mackay again. I thank the Teenage Cancer Trust in particular for all the work that it does, and I am sure that we all look forward to engaging with the organisation in the future.


Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

As others have done, I thank Rona Mackay for the opportunity to discuss such an important subject.

As we have started to eliminate many infectious diseases over a long period of time, our focus has moved to cancer. Cancer is, mostly, an adult condition, and it is not, of course, a single condition. However, there are very particular issues around cancers in the young. They tend to be different cancers and are often driven by DNA imperfections. There is a huge variety of cancers that affect very small numbers of people.

In terms of preparing for adulthood, how our young people behave as youngsters can affect their propensity to being diagnosed with cancer in later life. Education that is not simply about cancer in the young but that is directed at young people has a wider lifelong benefit. The work that the Teenage Cancer Trust does in schools, to empower young people to take control of their health, helps when they are young, and it sets good habits for the rest of their lives.

ASH Scotland’s “Scotland’s charter for a tobacco-free generation” includes a principle that states:

“every child has the right to effective education that equips them to make informed positive choices on tobacco and health”.

Of course, it is not simply choices on tobacco and health that are important.

Cancer Research UK gives us some interesting, and rather disturbing, statistics. In the past 20-plus years, there has been a one-third increase in the number of incidents of cancers in teenagers and young adults. A proportion of that will be because our diagnostic abilities have increased, but it also reflects a genuine increase.

We, as adults—in this debate we perform that role among other roles—are what might be described by the Teenage Cancer Trust as adult influencers. In other words, we are here, potentially, as sounding boards for youngsters.

There is a case for children from backgrounds where there is a history of cancer, particularly in the young, to have DNA testing, so that we can seek to identify the risk of diseases that may develop at a later date. I am not sure whether any country has done that systematically. It is not the cheapest intervention that we might make, nor, I think, is the science fully there, but if we know that there is a propensity for cancer, we can prepare a child to look at their bodies and perhaps identify cancer sooner. If we catch a cancer at stage 1 or even stage 2, the outcome is substantially better than if the cancer becomes apparent at a much later stage.

We have heard a few words about obesity. That is unlikely to be a direct cause of cancer in youngsters, but it underpins some cancers of adulthood. Tom Arthur referred to junk food. As I said a couple of weeks ago, we should not use the words “junk food”, because doing that is criticising the person who eats it. We should talk in different terms.

Can young adults avoid cancers? The American Cancer Society identifies a range of cancers that affect young people. I have spent an awful lot of time in the sun and, as a 10-year-old, I was hospitalised with sunstroke in Oban—yes, in Scotland.

The bottom line is that we need to educate our youngsters to be persistent if they see a change in their body, because it may be something non-trivial. We want them to be in charge of their lives, and to be equipped to deal with cancers as they arise in order to prevent them from having an impact.


Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I, too, thank Rona Mackay for securing time for this important debate, to which I am delighted to contribute.

As you know, Presiding Officer, I am particularly passionate about the preventative health agenda. A debate in which we discuss cancer awareness in young people gives me the opportunity to highlight that once again. I would assert that obesity, smoking, drink and drug abuse, and poor mental health are intrinsically linked. We should note that people in the most deprived areas are more likely to suffer from those conditions and that that inequality is growing. Furthermore, I would strongly suggest that if we were to be successful in tackling those issues, there would be a positive effect on other conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, many musculoskeletal disorders, chest, heart and stroke conditions and, yes, many cancers.

I have a poster on my wall from Cancer Research UK that features circles of decreasing sizes, each of which contains one of the main causes of preventable cancers. The first, and largest, is smoking; the second is obesity; the third is lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in our diet; the fourth is excessive alcohol; and so on. One of the smallest circles is lack of physical activity. The message is not necessarily one of prevention. To me, being physically active should overarch all of those other issues. Physical exercise is a key behavioural driver in preventative health. If a person is regularly physically active, they are less likely to smoke, more likely to be in control of their weight and more likely to be cognisant of whether they are consuming too much alcohol and too few fruit and vegetables, all of which are stated as key elements in preventable cancers. Good, positive, healthy choices should be a key educational target.

However, poor mental health cannot be underestimated as a driver of bad life choices and a lack of understanding of what good choices look like. It stands to reason, therefore, that if our aim is to increase awareness and understanding of cancer and its causes in young people, it is a prerequisite that we should aim for good mental health among young people. It is also very clear from research that a basic healthy diet has a significant impact on our mental health.

The Mental Health Foundation’s briefing paper “Food for thought” states:

“One of the most obvious yet under recognised factors in the development of mental health is nutrition. Just like the heart, stomach and liver, the brain is an organ that requires different amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and water to remain healthy.”

The Scottish Association for Mental Health’s “Scotland’s Mental Health Charter for Physical Activity and Sport” states:

“Physical activity through sport or recreation has been proven to have a positive impact on physical and mental health and wellbeing”.

I realise that I am trying to cover a lot in a short space of time, but what I am trying to get at is that if we want to ensure that youngsters are aware of cancer, and that their life choices can stack the deck in their favour when it comes to preventable cancers, we had better ensure that their mental health is as good as it can be. As SAMH’s and the Mental Health Foundation’s papers mentioned, that requires easy access to good nutrition and physical activity, and an understanding of why nutrition and physical activity are so important.

There are many moving parts to the preventative health agenda, including cancer and cancer awareness, and we need to be cognisant of all of them if we want to develop an effective strategy. Tackling those potential issues as early as possible, before they manifest themselves, is surely the path to follow.

I want to finish with a story of my friend Todd Bennett, who was one of the indestructibles. He was the world champion and the world record holder in the 400 metres. I have a picture of him on my wall—we were all standing around his bed. He went to the doctor after having a sore back for six months, and it transpired that he had cancer. He found out on a Friday, we found out on the Saturday and we were all at his bedside on the Sunday. We moved his bed from his ward to a more private area. When you had such people as Kriss Akabusi, Roger Black, Roy Dickens, Phil Brown and me moving the bed, let me tell you, it was inevitable that we were going to test how fast we could get that bed to go down the hospital corridor, much to Todd’s dismay. It happened that it was a fantastic day. It was the last time I ever saw him, because six months later he died.

All I wanted to say in terms of understanding cancer, Presiding Officer, is that you should never be frightened to go to your general practitioner. They will never chastise you for asking the question, and it could save your life.


Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

I thank Rona Mackay for securing this members’ business debate on cancer awareness for young people.

Cancer of any kind and at any age is a difficult topic to discuss, but discussing cancer with young people adds another level of complexity, as the issue needs to be examined appropriately, depending on age. A diagnosis must be one of the most frightening things for a parent to hear about their child. Having to inform parents that their child has cancer must also be a terrifying prospect for a doctor. Such a shock will be devastating for all.

Cancer in young people and teenagers makes up about 1 per cent of cancer found in all age groups, according to the organisation Teenagers and Young Adults with Cancer. Despite that fact, it is crucial for young people to know the signs of cancer, so that they can alert parents or healthcare professionals if something is not quite right. In all cases of cancer, no matter the person’s age, early detection and prevention are key. As the motion states,

“40% of cancers in adulthood are preventable”.

I believe that it is our duty as parliamentarians to continue to support the education of our young people about cancer, especially during 2018, which is the year of young people. Macmillan Cancer Support and the Teenage Cancer Trust have extensive and helpful resources for teachers, pupils and parents on their websites. I commend Rona Mackay on the work that she undertook with East Dunbartonshire Council—we should all consider doing that in our own constituencies and regions.

Macmillan Cancer Support offers a teaching toolkit that can be tailored to certain age groups. The work of the Teenage Cancer Trust, which is also noted in the motion, offers educators the opportunity to book a presenter to speak to classes. The presentation, which is informative and engaging for pupils, includes an introduction to what cancer is, its impacts and how healthy lifestyle choices can reduce the chances of getting cancer.

Another key aspect of educating young people about cancer and how to identify it is education on prevention. Preventing obesity and smoking are two ways to mitigate the risk of getting cancer. With one in five children in the UK being overweight or obese before they begin primary school, educating pupils about nutrition and physical activity is crucial for prevention.

I am supportive of the action that the Scottish Government is taking to understand obesity in Scotland through its consultation on a new obesity strategy, and I welcome the £40 million that will be invested to assist with weight management interventions for people with type 2 diabetes or who are at risk of developing the condition.

Educating young people on the risks of smoking is another method of preventing them from getting cancer. According to statistics from Cancer Research UK, 80 per cent of children under 16 in the UK have tried smoking, and 40 per cent of regular smokers began smoking before the age of 16. As Rona Mackay noted, ASH Scotland has been working tirelessly to promote a tobacco-free generation. It has created a charter that encourages discussion and helps organisations to determine the best way to contribute to the tobacco-free goal. In my constituency, CVS Inverclyde has pledged to support the charter for a tobacco-free generation and has undertaken a few activities to help with that.

Cancer can strike anyone, old or young, male or female. The research that is under way worldwide continues apace, but people continue to be diagnosed with cancer and to receive treatment. The number of people who recover to full lives afterwards is on the increase, thanks to early diagnosis and better treatment. The fight against cancer goes on. I am sure that everyone in the chamber has had cancer knock on the door of a family member.

I commend the efforts of the Teenage Cancer Trust, Macmillan Cancer Support, ASH Scotland, CVS Inverclyde and the many other organisations that are taking steps towards prevention and to educate our young people about cancer.

Finally, I must say that I thought that Brian Whittle’s contribution a few moments ago was extremely heartfelt and touching, and I thank him for sharing it with the chamber.

I again thank Rona Mackay for securing the debate.


The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Shona Robison)

I, too, thank Rona Mackay for securing the debate, and I welcome the opportunity to make some closing remarks. I also want to welcome our guests from the Teenage Cancer Trust, who are in the gallery, and thank them for the work that they do in educating young people about cancer.

Thankfully, the number of teenagers and young people who are diagnosed with cancer every year is small. However, every diagnosis is devastating for that young person and their family. That is why the Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that every young person receives the best possible treatment and support.

We are naturally apprehensive about being checked for cancer. However, early diagnosis is crucial: the earlier cancer is detected, the better the chance of a successful outcome, as many speakers have said during the debate.

Cancer remains a top clinical priority for the Scottish Government and the NHS. We are committed to earlier detection and improving outcomes for everyone who is affected by cancer. The detect cancer early programme that we launched in 2012 with an investment of £41 million has been hugely important. I am excited that next year’s campaign will focus on the overall benefits of early detection for all cancers, with the aim of encouraging anyone with any concerns or changes to their body to visit their GP. Brian Whittle’s powerful example of why that is important was a timely reminder to every one of us.

The signs of cancer in young people are often missed or misdiagnosed because they are similar to other, less harmful problems. Many young people with cancer have to visit their GP numerous times before they are referred to a specialist. I am therefore happy to say that the Scottish referral guidelines for suspected cancer are due to be reviewed and refreshed this year. The guidelines include a specific section on cancer in children, teenagers and young adults and are intended to help GPs, primary care teams and other clinicians to identify the people who are most likely to have cancer and who require an urgent assessment by a specialist.

Young people face specific challenges when they get a cancer diagnosis. They do not always realise that something serious is wrong, and if they do realise it, they may take time to seek medical help or advice. Even when they seek help, they may not always explain themselves well, or they may feel intimidated or lack the confidence to discuss symptoms with GPs or health professionals. Cancer in young people is rare, so it is often not considered as a possibility.

We recognise the important part that our teenagers and young adults can play in raising awareness of cancer. It is important that they seek help early when they develop a serious symptom. When we educate a young person about their health, the message often stays with them throughout their life, and there is a ripple effect: when young people talk more openly to their peers and parents or carers about cancer, the subject can lose some of its taboo.

As Rona Mackay outlined, the Teenage Cancer Trust’s education programme provides young people with information that encourages them to have the confidence to recognise changes to their bodies; it also encourages them to give their older family members a nudge to make sure that they know the benefits of early presentation or find out more about screening programme participation. Breaking down barriers and getting people to talk about cancer is an important part of the detect cancer early programme. It has already come out of evaluation well, with thousands of young people in Scotland receiving a cancer awareness session in the first seven months. As Anas Sarwar said, we want all secondary schools to benefit from those awareness sessions.

Our national cancer strategy, “Beating Cancer: Ambition and Action”, which was launched in March 2016, is underpinned by £100 million of investment. It includes six specific commitments to encourage and support people to reduce their risk of getting cancer by living healthier lives, with a focus on reducing health inequalities and tackling preventable cancers. Through the strategy, a further £2.5 million over five years has been allocated to the managed service network, which Miles Briggs referred to. That funding will allow us to continue to improve services for teenagers and young adults across Scotland and to focus on their specific needs.

In Scotland, it is crucial that we improve our awareness of health and wellbeing. Indeed, the three core areas that are the responsibility of all staff in schools are health and wellbeing, along with literacy and numeracy. There are still schools that have not taken up the offer of the Teenage Cancer Trust’s resource. I am pleased to say that the Teenage Cancer Trust has reported that 100 per cent of schools in my constituency have taken up the resource in this academic year—they have already received the programme or are booked in before the end of the year. Although that is great, as Rona Mackay said, all MSPs have a role to play in asking what is happening in their constituencies and in promoting that excellent programme in schools. I will ask education officials to work with their networks to raise awareness of the work of the Teenage Cancer Trust so that all schools and all young people will, I hope, benefit.

It is right that we are discussing this important issue during the year of young people, which is a platform to give our young people a stronger voice on issues that affect their lives. Wellbeing is a key theme in the year of young people. We want to make sure that young people have the chance to lead healthy, active lives and that they understand the importance of good mental health and resilience. Health and wellbeing are core elements in the curriculum, so there is a good fit with the awareness-raising education programme that the Teenage Cancer Trust provides.

I again thank members for their contributions to this important debate and reiterate our commitment to tackling cancer in Scotland. I hope that many members will attend the reception for the Teenage Cancer Trust, which Rona Mackay will host tomorrow, to hear more about its work.

Finally, I pay tribute to the young people who are, at this moment, dealing with a diagnosis of cancer—whether their own or that of a loved one—and I wish them all the best on their future journey.

Meeting closed at 17:44.