Boobs Balls and Biases Part 2: Why check ‘em?

In my previous post I described my involvement in a project designed to educate secondary school pupils about cancer run by a collaboration of people that became known as the #RETHINKCANCER team.

The project involved having older children design interventions and administer these to younger pupils, whilst myself and my fellow Warwick PhD student, Sinong Ma, designed surveys to measure knowledge and self-reported cancer related behaviours before and after.

The results showed significant improvements in knowledge related to cancer, as well as trends in the right direction for self-reported cancer related behaviours. Unfortunately it is hard to state anything with precision or certainty with a sample size of 32 that remained after all the stages were complete. But on the bright side the results are positive and cancer will be included in Riddlesdown School curriculum.

The project was also presented at a parliamentary reception and very well received both by MPs and cancer related professionals, making a step in the right direction for educating the nation about cancer. With almost a third of cancer cases diagnosed in A&E, no need to say this is a big win.

There is one aspect however that did not change in the surveys submitted – the very large underestimation (by 3 out of 10 people) of people cured of cancer. This makes the results even more positive, and slightly surprising, as the pupils were willing to learn despite the minimal impact they can expect if they think chances of beating cancer are slim post detection.

When trying to bring about behavioural change we focus on providing information, persuasion, addressing emotional factors and sometimes nudging. We consider the tiniest details of what information to include and how it is delivered, and yet we forget to address why this is important and requires action.

‘Motivation’ as a buzz word is losing its oomph so to speak, and yet goal directed behaviours will continue to exist. It may seem obvious why cancer detection has its benefits, but results indicate that stating the obvious may be what is needed to bring about the necessary behavioural change and take cancer education to the next level.

The recognition of the need to increase cancer detection from the public and the government is fantastic, and we are moving in the right direction. But it is easy to get lost in all the excitement (and tasty if not slightly odd canapés) and forget this is just the beginning. The improvements achieved by interventions are good news, but the data is also telling us that we can do more.

I hope we use this opportunity to fill this gap, and take this yet another step further.

I will end this post with the wise words of the #RETHINKCANCER team:

If you’ve got bits CHECK ‘EM!!!

This article first appeared on the Behavioural Design Lab website


Marsha Kirichek
Marsha Kirichek
Doctoral Student