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Young women's responses to smoking and breast cancer risk information

Oxford University Press
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1093/her/cyp067
  • Original Articles
  • Biology


Current evidence confirms that young women who smoke or who have regular long-term exposure to secondhand smoke (SHS) have an increased risk of developing premenopausal breast cancer. The aim of this research was to examine the responses of young women to health information about the links between active smoking and SHS exposure and breast cancer and obtain their advice about messaging approaches. Data were collected in focus groups with 46 women, divided in three age cohorts: 15–17, 18–19 and 20–24 and organized according to smoking status (smoking, non-smoking and mixed smoking status groups). The discussion questions were preceded by information about passive and active smoking and its associated breast cancer risk. The study findings show young women's interest in this risk factor for breast cancer. Three themes were drawn from the analysis: making sense of the information on smoking and breast cancer, personal susceptibility and tobacco exposure and suggestions for increasing awareness about tobacco exposure and breast cancer. There was general consensus on framing public awareness messages about this risk factor on ‘protecting others’ from breast cancer to catch smokers’ attention, providing young women with the facts and personal stories of breast cancer to help establish a personal connection with this information and overcome desensitization related to tobacco messages, and targeting all smokers who may place young women at risk. Cautions were also raised about the potential for stigmatization. Implications for raising awareness about this modifiable risk factor for breast cancer are discussed.

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