Published On: Thu, Apr 11th, 2024

Girls Aloud breast cancer pioneer runs to save more lives | UK | News

The first woman screened by the breast cancer project inspired by the late Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding is running the London Marathon to save more young lives.

Harding died from breast cancer aged 39 in 2021 but her last wish was for new ways to spot it early, when it’s more treatable – sparking the Sarah Harding Breast Cancer Appeal.

When the Harding-inspired ‘Breast Cancer Risk Assessment in Young Women (BCAN-RAY)’ project was set up, Catherine Craven-Howe, of Runcorn, Cheshire, was the first woman to take part.

Now Liverpool University medical student Catherine, 34, is joining 50,000 runners for the London Marathon on Sunday 21st April to raise money for further breast cancer research in young women.


Catherine said: “I found out about BCAN-RAY when I received a letter from my GP which briefly outlined the project and asked if I would like to participate in the study.

“Although thankfully I don’t have breast cancer myself and I don’t have a history of it in my family, as a medical student I know just how important clinical trials and research are.

“It is an opportunity that I feel truly honoured to have been given and I hope my participation will help devise a simple test to detect the likelihood of breast cancer for young women like me in the future.”

The pioneering BCAN-RAY research project is one of the first of its kind in the world which aims to identify young women who are at risk of developing breast cancer in their 30s.

Those deemed high risk would be given access to early screening. About 2,300 women aged 39 and under are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK each year.

Funded by The Christie Charity in Manchester and Cancer Research UK, BCAN-RAY was established in memory of  Harding, who grew up in nearby Stockport.

Speaking about the study before her death, Harding said: “Research is incredibly important in the fight against cancer.

“Although this research may not be in time to help me, this project is incredibly close to my heart as it may help women like me in the future.” 

The project is supported by Harding’s family, friends and Girls Aloud bandmates Cheryl Tweedy, Kimberley Walsh, Nadine Coyle and Nicola Roberts, as well as Dr Sacha Howell who was Sarah Harding’s consultant at The Christie. 

Catherine added: “I decided to sign up to participate in the London Marathon and fundraise for The Christie, following my involvement with the BCAN-RAY study and talking with breast cancer consultant Dr Sacha Howell further about it. This will be my fifth marathon. 

“When I finish my degree, I hope to become a doctor – it’s early days but I am thinking about ophthalmology, endocrinology or oncology.

“When I’m not studying, I run with a girls’ running group in Liverpool on Wednesday evenings which is lots of fun.

“I do most of my training locally, on canal tow paths, parks and quiet roads, usually a longer run at the weekend and a couple of shorter runs in the week.

“I have had fantastic support from friends and family and I’m planning another fundraising push this month. My goal is to raise £2,000 for The Christie Charity if I can.”

Lindsey Farthing, Sporting Events Manager at The Christie Charity, said: “We’re doubly grateful to Catherine for not only signing up to the breast cancer research project, but also for fundraising for us.

“Without people like her willing to take part in crucial medical research we would never see advances in cancer treatment. We wish her the best of luck in the London Marathon and will be cheering her on.”

The study aims to recruit 1,000 women aged between 30 and 39, including 250 with breast cancer but no family history of the disease.

The recruitment process for BCAN-RAY is arranged through appointments via GPs, who contact specific patients via letter to offer them the opportunity to take part in the study.

Dr Sacha Howell, who is leading the study, said: “Sarah spoke to me many times about breast cancer research and was really keen for more to be done to find out why young women are being diagnosed without any other family members having been affected by the disease.”

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, added: “Even in the darkest days of her cancer journey, Sarah Harding was a fearless advocate for research.

“She bravely faced up to the pain the cancer caused her, undergoing treatment whilst thinking of ways to help other women in a similar position.”

To donate to Catherine’s fundraising page visit

To support the work of The Christie Charity, please go to

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