Breast cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer for women with one in nine women in Canada receiving a diagnosis at some point in her life and the second leading cause of death from cancer for women. But breast cancer does not have the same incidence or impact across all populations of women.

Research in Canada over the past ten years has shown that immigrant women from many countries, particularly from East and Southeast Asian countries, have much lower rates of incidence in their country of origin but within ten years of immigrating to Canada, their rate rises to the Canadian average.[1]


Research also shows that many women of immigrant or diverse origins are often unfamiliar with the disease, may come from cultures where intimate health issues are not discussed, and where the concept of preventive medecine is not well understood

Futhermore, information and educational tools used often do not reflect the realities of women of diverse origins and do not address underlying isues such as unfamiliarity with the Canadian healthcare system and lack of a family doctor who can help women understand the importance of taking actions for their own care and help them navigate the healthcare system.

Moreover, immigrant women may not understand how to access health services or feel it is their right to use them. [2] Finally, they may not be aware of factors that increase breast cancer risk, particularly occupational and environmental exposures.


There is a further level of complexity as research from the United States and the United Kingdom shows that black women in particular, but also women from other racialized groups, who historically have had lower breast cancer incident rates than white women, have increasing rates of breast cancer, are diagnosed in greater proportions with the more aggressive forms of the disease and have significantly higher mortality rates from the disease than white women.[3]

So there is a racialized component to the disease that women need to understand. Finally, in Quebec, statistics show that lower income women  diagnosed with breast cancer have worse outcomes than middle and upper income women.[4] Since immigrant women and some women from racialized groups often have much lower levels of income, this reality must also be taken into account.

For these reasons, women who immigrate to Canada or who are part of different racialized groups have very specific needs regarding information on breast cancer, risk reduction and detection. We have found that very little work has been done in Québec to respond to these issues. Further, we have had representatives from different immigrant communities ask our organization to work with them to educate women about the reality of breast cancer in Canada.

Breast Cancer Action Quebec has developed a program on breast cancer education and risk reduction designed specifically for immigrant women and women from racialized groups with basic information on recognizing warning signs and different aspects of disease prevention that takes into account their cultural and economic realities.


Breast Cancer: The Realities of Women of Diverse Origins

Breast Cancer Action Quebec does not charge any fees for its public education workshops. However, as a charity, we are very appreciative of donations which allow us to continue and amplify our work in the communitity. For locations outside of Greater Montreal area, we ask to cover the travel costs. Just write us an email with details on where, when and in what language you would like the workshop to be given.

Thanks to funding from the Saunders-Matthey Foundation and the Fondation Solstice, we were able to develop a workshop, tools and videos that form the basis of our Breast Cancer and Immigrant and Racialized Women’s Program.

[1] Ginsburg, O.M. and colleagues. A population-based study of ethnicity and breast cancer stage at diagnosis in Ontario. Current Oncology. Vol. 22, No. 2. April 2015.

Simspon, Jory, S. Kaleigh Briggs and Ralph George. Breast Cancer Amongst Filipino Migrants : A review of the literature and Ten-Year Institutional Analysis. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health. Vol. 17, No. 3. June 2015. Pp. 729-736.

[2] Gondek and colleagues. Engaging Immigrant and Refugee Women in Breast Health Education. Journal of Cancer Education. Vol. 30, no. 3. September 2015. Mahamoud, Aziza. Breast Cancer Screening in Racialized Women. Wellesley Institute. February 2014. Nelson, Jennifer and Teresa Macias. Living with a White Disease : Women of Colour and Their Engagement with Breast Cancer Information. University of Toronto. N.D. Vahabi, Mandana. Knowledge, beliefs and information needs of Iranian immigrant women in Toronto regarding breast cancer and screening. Ryerson University. November 2011.

[3] Chen, Lu and Christopher I. Li. Racial Disparities in Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment by Hormone Receptor and HER2 Status. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. October 13, 2015. Copson, E. and colleagues. Ethnicity and outcome of young breast cancer patients in the United Kingdom : The POSH study. Also see, « Young black women less likely to survive breast cancer. » Medical Express News. October 23, 2013. http :// Iqbal, Javaid and colleagues. Differences in breast cancer stage at diagnosis and cancer-specific survival by race and ethnicity in the United States. Journal of the American Medical Association. Vol 313, No.2. January 13, 2015. Redden, Molly. Why is breast cancer becoming deadlier for black women? The Guardian. October 31, 2015.

[4] Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de Montréal. Rapport du directeur de santé publique 2011. Les inégalités sociales de santé à Montréal. Direction de santé publique. 2e édition. 2012.