The Youth Program of Breast Cancer Action Québec

For almost 15 years, Breast Cancer Action Québec (BCAQc) has run a vibrant youth program teaching teenagers and university students about toxic chemicals in cosmetics and consumer products. The program has many different projects, some the result of foundation funding, others the result of volunteer work by young people.

Early intervention

True breast cancer prevention means intervening early with young people. Pre-adolescence and adolescence represent critical windows of exposure as the body is particularly sensitive to hormone disruption by endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These chemicals are found in a vast array of everyday products and have been linked to a spectrum of health problems including developmental disorders, reproductive organ malformations particularly in boys, obesity, early-onset puberty and hormone-dependent cancers, including breast cancer. The young people involved in this arts-based program chose to call it Toxic Resistance to reflect the empowering nature of their work.

While educating young people on these issues, we also explore social norms that drive our consumption of these products. Girls from a number of sociocultural backgrounds face even more complex pressures to conform and thus may use particularly dangerous products such as hair relaxers and skin lighteners. Furthermore, this is the stage when young people are developing the personal habits that they will continue into adulthood.

Working in Schools

Our art based approach we use in schools and community groups allows the young people (both girls and boys) to produce strong works of self-expression that are important and deeply touching on issues of self-care, body posivity for all young people, critical thinking and a proactive approach to their mental and physical health.

Currently, BCAQc is testing a model teen health empowerment program that we developed in the Secondary IV Ethics Classes in a public high school in Montreal. The challenges are significant, but the kids are bright and have a lot to say on the issues they face. And they want to learn more about their environment and its impact on their health. At the end of this year, we will be able to offer this program in other high schools as well.

Some people do not understand why a breast cancer organization works with teenagers. Interestingly, it’s something we never have to explain to the kids.

We sincerely thank our funders, the Betty Averbach Foundation and the Fondation Solstice, for their support of this important work.