BACKGROUND: Over one-third of cancer cases are attributable to modifiable risk factors. Because health-related behaviors are often established at adolescence, it is important that adolescents understand the risks and lifestyle decisions that may reduce their chances of developing cancer. This study aims to identify the levels of cancer awareness of adolescents in Australia.
METHODS: Paper questionnaires were used to collect information about baseline levels of cancer awareness. These questionnaires included socio-demographic questions and the Cancer Awareness Measure (CAM) with slight modifications to ensure their suitability for the Australian adolescent population. Students aged 11 to 19 years were recruited from 13 Australian high schools between 2016 and 2019.
RESULTS: A total of 766 adolescents (58% female, mean age = 14.5 years) completed the questionnaires. Adolescents' cancer awareness was low. Adolescents who knew someone with cancer recognized significantly more cancer risk factors and cancer warning signs than those who did not know someone with cancer (t (756) = 2.35, p = .019; t (747) = 5.57, p = .001). Those from high Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) schools significantly recognized more cancer risk factors than those from low ICSEA schools (t (764) = 2.42, p = .016). Females recognized significantly more warning signs than males (t (583) = 3.11, p = .002) and students from senior high school grades recognized more warning signs than those from junior grades (t (754) = 2.24, p = .02). Most adolescents (78%) were aware of skin cancer as one of the most common cancers in Australia, however half or less were aware of other common cancers. Although most adolescents would seek medical help in the presence of possible cancer symptoms as soon as possible, approximately 20% of them would not see a doctor promptly. Emotional barriers were the most common reasons to delay seeing a doctor (56%), for example "being worried about hearing bad news" (27%).
CONCLUSIONS: Australian adolescents show poor awareness of cancer risk factors and cancer warning signs. A number of demographic and experience factors were found to be related to lower cancer awareness. Education is essential to raise cancer awareness, promote healthy lifestyles from adolescence and avoid a preventable cancer diagnosis.
- Health Behavior
- Health Education
- Risk Factors
- Skin Neoplasms
- Surveys and Questionnaires
- Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice