Ask the Expert: The More You Know

We polled the pros about getting geared up for winter running, mammograms and the potential link between processed meat and cancer

Q: I would like to keep up my running through the winter months. What do I need to add to my gear to be prepared?


As the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather – just bad clothing. “When gearing up for winter, its easiest to think from the inside out,” says Nolan Tudor, vice president of operations at Calgary’s Tech Shop running store. Here are his recommendations:

Baselayer: “You should be looking for something thin with ­excellent moisture wicking properties,” he says. An insulated bottom layer to keep your legs warm might be a good idea depending on the ­temperature.

Mid-layer: The mid-layer really only applies to your top, and should be another insulated layer to keep your torso warm.

Outer-layer: On top you should be looking for something insulated but also wind and water resistant. “Having something that is wind resistant will really cut down on the cold you experience from windchill,” says Tudor. On the bottom your options are either tights or pants, and this is a personal preference.

Head: You should looking for something warm, but comfortable. Some runners like Buffs, due to their versatility. Some prefer toques or just wear insulated headbands. “The key is to make sure that whatever you are putting on your head is moisture wicking. We accumulate a lot of sweat that can freeze on our head if not dealt with efficiently.”

Hands: You should look for a glove or mitt that is insulated and wind and water resistant. “Mitts are inherently warmer because your fingers stay in contact with one another while sharing body heat,” says Tudor. Some companies even make convertible mitts that are a glove ­underneath with a stow-able mitt overtop.

Feet: Footwear is not to be overlooked during winter. With running surfaces often being icy, traction becomes very important. A lot of runners look to trail shoes as a solution. Trail shoes are meant for off pavement use and as such they have much better traction. The softer the outsole rubber the better it will grip on wet and icy surfaces. If slippery surfaces are keeping you from running (even with trail shoes) you can also look at a number of slip on traction devices available, which utilize some form of chains or studs to grip into ice.

Q: I have heard that the World Health Organization has confirmed there is a direct link between processed meats and cancer. Is this true, and should I cut them out of my diet?


Leap asked Dr. Nigel Brockton, research scientist in molecular cancer epidemiology, cancer epidemiology and prevention research for Cancer Control Alberta and Alberta Health Services.

“The very short answer (to the first part of the question) is ‘yes,’ but it is important that you understand the degree of risk associated with processed meats so that you can make a balanced decision about whether you should stop eating them or not,” Brockton says. He adds that the recent announcement regarding the link between processed meats and cancer has resulted from IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) reclassifying processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen which he says “means, according to the weight of evidence, they are certain that it ‘causes cancer.’ This designation is an upgrading of these products from their previous category of Group 2 carcinogens, which meant that they ‘probably cause cancer.’ ”

Brockton warns that this new information, while alarming, “needs to be put it into context. The change in category only reflects the degree of scientific certainty that consuming processed meats increases a person’s risk of cancer; it does not reflect by how much it increases a person’s risk of cancer.”

Just how much eating processed meats raises your risk of cancer (mainly colon cancer) is usually buried deeper in the various reports, but it is approximately 17 per cent, he says. “That sounds like a lot but it should be noted that the lifetime risk of someone developing colon cancer is about six per cent. If the risk of being diagnosed with colon cancer is – for someone eating the lowest amount of processed meat – about 5.5 per cent, then their risk will increase to around 6.5 per cent if they consume the highest amounts of processed meats.”

So, the consensus from more than 800 research studies is that frequent or excessive consumption of processed meat does increase your risk of cancer, Brockton confirms. “However, it is a relatively small increased risk for one particular type of cancer (although there is some evidence for increasing risk of other types). The key, as in most things, is moderation. Consuming processed meats infrequently will probably have a negligible impact on your overall health or cancer risk, especially if you have a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.”

Q: I am a woman in my 30s and have concerns about breast cancer, as I have a family history of it. What should I be doing to lessen my risk of contracting the disease? Do I need a mammogram?


A family history of breast cancer can increase your risk of developing the disease,” says Dr. Huiming Yang, a medical director of screening for Alberta Health Services. Approximately five to ten per cent of breast cancer diagnoses can be attributed to mutations in certain genes (like BRACA1, BRCA2 or others).

“However, the majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.” Yang says risk level depends on:

  • Which of your relatives have had breast cancer,
  • How many relatives have breast cancer,
  • At what age your relative(s) developed breast cancer, and
  • BRCA1 or BRCA2 in the family

Your risk is higher if your relative is a first degree relative (like your mother, sisters or daughters), if you have more than one relative with breast cancer, or if your relative(s) developed breast cancer under the age of 50. For example, if your family history includes one grandmother who developed breast cancer after the age of 50, your risk is not much greater than a person with no family history.

Screening mammograms are not recommended for women younger than 40, unless they have a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, strong family history of breast cancer or personal medical history that significantly increases your risk. Yang also recommends using the risk assessment tool located at to learn more about breast cancer risk factors and how they may affect you.

Ask our experts questions about general health, cancer prevention and treatment. Please submit them via email to Remember, this advice is never a substitute for talking directly to your family doctor.

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