Communicating cancer: survey reaches out to young women

Young women aren't receiving important messages about the dangers of tobacco and its relation to premenopausal breast cancer, says Joan L. Bottorff, director of the Research Centre for Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Prevention at UBC Okanagan.

In an attempt to better understand this problem and explore possible solutions, the Centre is asking women between the ages of 15 and 24 to participate in an online survey that examines women’s knowledge of the link between tobacco exposure and premenopausal breast cancer. The survey also explores the most effective ways to communicate messages that spread awareness about this significant relationship.

“To develop an effective approach to informing young women about this risk factor for breast cancer, we need a better understanding of young women,” says Bottorff. “As part of a study funded by the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Alliance, we are consulting young women, age 15 to 24, from across the country on this topic. To do this we have been conducting focus groups and are implementing an online survey to reach other women.”

The research initiative is one of the first projects for the Research Centre for Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Prevention at UBC Okanagan, which focuses on combating major preventable chronic diseases and finding ways to promote healthy lifestyles. The survey is part of a larger, collaborative study involving several universities and healthcare-related organizations looking for tobacco-use and breast cancer messaging strategies that are effective in reaching young women. Bottorff is one of the co-principal investigators of the project, working with colleague Kenneth C. Johnson of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

So far, seven different focus groups – with a total of 36 participants – have been held in two cities: Kelowna, B.C., and Fredericton, N.B. The locations were chosen because of the provinces’ different smoking rates; B.C. has the lowest provincial prevalence rate for smoking (15 per cent), with New Brunswick among the provinces with the highest rates (22 per cent). The web-based survey is intended to build on the knowledge gathered through focus groups by reaching out to a wider audience of young women. The results of the survey will be used to prepare for a larger national study.

“All of the focus group participants indicated that their current knowledge about the risk of premenopausal breast cancer associated with both active smoking and second-hand smoke exposure was low,” says Bottorff. “This study is the first attempt to address a growing concern, and it lays the groundwork for future research and more effective health promotion campaigns. We are asking that women between the ages of 15 and 24 make time to partake in this important survey.”

The survey takes about 10 to 15 minutes to complete and can be found at

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