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Case study: Student society drives awareness of cancer symptoms

Around 300 teenagers and young adults die from cancer each year. But with almost all public health messages related to cancer targeted at an older population, one Manchester medical student noticed a gap in information for young people.

In September 2014, student James Adams set up the Cancer Awareness in Teenagers and Young Adults Society (CATS) at Manchester Students Union to encourage more young people to be aware of the signs of cancer and produce graduates who take responsibility for their own health.

With the support of the Teenage Cancer Trust and the University’s academic staff, CATS has successfully engaged around 1,000 students over the past year through social media and events designed to create discussion and interest.

"We are student led, as the best people to reach students are other students"

James Adams / Medical student and founder of CATS

"About 2,200 people between the ages of 15 and 24 are diagnosed with cancer every year", says James. "Hence the need to check things out."

"At CATS we're all about making sure young people know the common signs and symptoms of cancer. We encourage people to be familiar with their bodies, and to keep an eye out for any signs that could indicate something is wrong. We encourage anyone who notices these signs to go and see their GP and share their concerns."

Co-led by Dr Martin McCabe, Academic Lead and  Senior Clinical Lecturer, the CATS campaign uses 'awareness by stealth' techniques to convey messages about the clinical signs and symptoms of cancer in order to encourage young people to see their GP if they recognise any changes.

Their messaging is short, sharp and engaging – delivered by a little feline character that can be seen around the Manchester campus.

Common cancer symptoms, image by CATS society
Five common signs of cancer that teenagers and young people should be aware of

"We are student led, as the best people to reach students are other students", explains James.

"We run events such as acoustic nights, comedy nights, pub quizzes, lectures, workshops and more. We work with other student groups to get the message out to as many people as possible."

"We put out our material onto different social media platforms, and print onto things like beer mats as opposed to the more traditional leaflets, we want to reach students in any way we can."

The hope is to reduce the time for diagnosis in young people and to ultimately improve the clinical outcomes of these types of cancers.

CATS continues to grow their successful awareness campaign and just one year later, they launched a second branch at Cambridge University. This was followed by CATS London East and then in October 2016, the fourth CATS site in Liverpool.

You can find out more about CATS Manchester on their Facebook page.