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Research project launched in memory of Sarah Harding recruits first participant

Jacob Smith
by Jacob Smith | News

27 June 2023

9 comments 9 comments

A breast cancer cell seen under the microscope


A new breast cancer research project, launched in memory of Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding, has recruited its first participant. 

The BCAN-RAY (Breast Cancer Risk Assessment in Young Women) project, funded by The Christie Charity Sarah Harding Breast Cancer Appeal and Cancer Research UK, has been set up following Sarah’s dying wish to find new ways to spot the signs of the disease earlier and save lives. 

BCAN-RAY will be one of the first research studies in the world to identify new ways to predict the risk of younger women getting breast cancer. 33-year-old Catherine Craven-Howe is the first participant to take part in the trial.  

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

- Catherine

The innovative study has been made possible by funding from the Sarah Harding Breast Cancer Appeal with support from Sarah’s family, friends and Girls Aloud bandmates. Together through various fundraising initiatives, they have raised over £1 million to date.    

A first of its kind

The project will look at risk factors most commonly found in women diagnosed with breast cancer in their 30s.  

Based on those risk factors, the scientists will build a model, which can identify which women are most at risk of developing breast cancer in their 30s.   

The researchers hope that their findings will enable all women to have a risk assessment for breast cancer when they reach the age of 30. Those women identified as high risk could then have access to early screening and opportunities for prevention, to reduce the chances of them developing and potentially dying from the disease.   

Catherine is the first of 1,000 women aged between 30 and 39 the study aims to recruit. 

250 will be women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, with no family history of the disease. And they will be studied alongside 750 women in the same age group who have not had breast cancer, and who also have no family history of the disease. 

How will it work?

Participants will be asked to complete a questionnaire, provide a saliva sample for genetic testing and have a low dose risk assessment mammogram.   

Subtle changes in DNA can be identified through saliva and The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester is working with Cancer Research UK to establish types and patterns of genes to develop personalised risk scores.  

Risk predictions can be overlayed with some other factors such as when a woman’s periods started, alcohol consumption and use of the contraceptive pill. The density of the breast tissue could also play a part in the level of risk of getting the disease.   

Sarah Harding, a member of Girls Aloud who passed away in 2021
Sarah Harding, who passed away in 2021

Sarah’s legacy 

Every day more than 150 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK* and nearly a fifth of all cases are women who are under 50**, most of whom don’t have a family history of the disease. 

Sarah’s consultant, Dr Sacha Howell, from The Christie and The University of Manchester, who is leading on the BCAN-RAY 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.  

“There are too many young women in their 30s like Sarah tragically dying from breast cancer. Currently the only indicator we have is based on family history, but this only helps predict one third of cases. We need to find out how we can more accurately identify those in whom it will develop.”   

Currently, there is no routine screening programme for early breast cancer in younger women who don’t have family history of the disease, despite it being the most common cause of death in women aged 30-55 years. 

Michelle Mitchell, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “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.  

“Since Sarah’s death, it has been inspiring to see people coming together in her memory to support life-saving research. The money raised in Sarah’s name will go a long way towards diagnosing breast cancer earlier in younger women.  

“The BCAN-RAY project will fulfil Sarah’s dying wish to help women like her. By harnessing the power of cutting-edge science, we can look forward to the day where all women can live free from the fear of breast cancer.” 

    Comments

  • Edith Crank
    20 December 2023

    I cannot understand while we know that age is no safe guard against any cancer and Breast is coming to the fore for 20s so why do you have to wait till you find your own lump or don’t in some cases not everyone checks when a scan which is a ten minute job be done instead of waiting till over 50 to be told if you had come early could have hopefully saved you. reading the above comments It is totally appalling the don’t bother me go home of some of the medical staff. I have been around family & friends cancers more than I ever thought possible and have seen both the Good and the worst of NHS .this is a great step forward Donation being given but we should be pushing for a no age limit scan I am 72 and this year rang to book myself scan as I always did my 3 year ones but after 70 no call so would say over 70 ring and still get the scan. must also remember Men can get breast wonder what the rate for checking is on them.

  • Viv Mckee
    26 September 2023

    I had a similar breast cancer in my 50s. I was convinced there was something wrong although I couldn’t feel anything. My gp, followed by the consultant believed me. The tumour did not show up on the mammogram but the scan found it. I was lucky.
    My daughter less so. She had inflammatory breast disease which was diagnosed twice!! As mastitis. When someone finally believed her the cancer had spread. She died within two years. I know of another woman this happened to.
    My daughter made a film of her experience before she died.
    We got as far as the APPG on breast cancer, their priority was new technology.
    My concern is that nurses, midwives and gps are a gateway and can help or block your life chance.

  • Sam Waren
    22 September 2023

    I would really like to take part. My mum had grade 4 hormonal breast cancer at 48, I’m now 43 with no lumps, but concerned.

  • Chantelle
    22 September 2023

    My mam has been diagnosed with breast cancer twice now and unfortunately its spread to her lungs and stomach and other places and has months to live, but they won’t test me or my sister as it says it skips a generation its shocking i like to be tested

  • Louise
    14 August 2023

    This is lovely to read.
    I am 38 – have a faulty breast gene (chk2) – a strong history of breast ca and been refused early screening until im 40.
    Hopefully things will change.

  • Margaret Dool
    13 August 2023

    What an amazing legacy to leave behind. Diagnosed myself at 39 in 2000, my youngest sister at 48 and middle sister at 56 both currently in the 5 year window. I pray that my 3 nieces don’t have to ever endure what we have had to go through

  • Leanne Judson
    5 July 2023

    I was going through Breast Cancer treatment at the same time Sarah sadly passed away and it really bought it home to me just how precious life is. Such a beautiful young life taken far too early. XX

  • Jacqui
    5 July 2023

    Such a tragic death of a lovely young woman. I hope this project helps prevent others succumbing to the same fate.

  • Carol Ireland
    4 July 2023

    I had breast cancer in 2007 and am still around however I have suffered with my circulation and the doctors who treated me reckon it has to do with the chemo that I had as well as having an aneurysm in both legs they contributed that back to the chemo as I don’t drive I walk everywhere but I now have to use a stick xx

    Comments

  • Edith Crank
    20 December 2023

    I cannot understand while we know that age is no safe guard against any cancer and Breast is coming to the fore for 20s so why do you have to wait till you find your own lump or don’t in some cases not everyone checks when a scan which is a ten minute job be done instead of waiting till over 50 to be told if you had come early could have hopefully saved you. reading the above comments It is totally appalling the don’t bother me go home of some of the medical staff. I have been around family & friends cancers more than I ever thought possible and have seen both the Good and the worst of NHS .this is a great step forward Donation being given but we should be pushing for a no age limit scan I am 72 and this year rang to book myself scan as I always did my 3 year ones but after 70 no call so would say over 70 ring and still get the scan. must also remember Men can get breast wonder what the rate for checking is on them.

  • Viv Mckee
    26 September 2023

    I had a similar breast cancer in my 50s. I was convinced there was something wrong although I couldn’t feel anything. My gp, followed by the consultant believed me. The tumour did not show up on the mammogram but the scan found it. I was lucky.
    My daughter less so. She had inflammatory breast disease which was diagnosed twice!! As mastitis. When someone finally believed her the cancer had spread. She died within two years. I know of another woman this happened to.
    My daughter made a film of her experience before she died.
    We got as far as the APPG on breast cancer, their priority was new technology.
    My concern is that nurses, midwives and gps are a gateway and can help or block your life chance.

  • Sam Waren
    22 September 2023

    I would really like to take part. My mum had grade 4 hormonal breast cancer at 48, I’m now 43 with no lumps, but concerned.

  • Chantelle
    22 September 2023

    My mam has been diagnosed with breast cancer twice now and unfortunately its spread to her lungs and stomach and other places and has months to live, but they won’t test me or my sister as it says it skips a generation its shocking i like to be tested

  • Louise
    14 August 2023

    This is lovely to read.
    I am 38 – have a faulty breast gene (chk2) – a strong history of breast ca and been refused early screening until im 40.
    Hopefully things will change.

  • Margaret Dool
    13 August 2023

    What an amazing legacy to leave behind. Diagnosed myself at 39 in 2000, my youngest sister at 48 and middle sister at 56 both currently in the 5 year window. I pray that my 3 nieces don’t have to ever endure what we have had to go through

  • Leanne Judson
    5 July 2023

    I was going through Breast Cancer treatment at the same time Sarah sadly passed away and it really bought it home to me just how precious life is. Such a beautiful young life taken far too early. XX

  • Jacqui
    5 July 2023

    Such a tragic death of a lovely young woman. I hope this project helps prevent others succumbing to the same fate.

  • Carol Ireland
    4 July 2023

    I had breast cancer in 2007 and am still around however I have suffered with my circulation and the doctors who treated me reckon it has to do with the chemo that I had as well as having an aneurysm in both legs they contributed that back to the chemo as I don’t drive I walk everywhere but I now have to use a stick xx