08/12/2014 16:42 GMT | Updated 07/02/2015 05:59 GMT

Sniffing Out Breast Cancer - Thanks to Walk the Walk

Carl Court/PA Archive


I get excited about all the grants that we give but every now and then I see or hear something that completely blows me away, and this was one of those occasions. I'd been invited to Clarence House by an organisation called Medical Detection Dogs to watch a demonstration of their dogs in action.

If you've never heard about it before, the idea that dogs can sniff out cancer sounds more like an episode of Lassie than scientific fact. But it's true - and there's a significant body of medical evidence to support it. Still it's hard to accept until you see it right before your eyes - which is where the demonstration came in.

I watched in amazement as labradors Lucy and Ulric worked their way through a carousel of different urine samples. If the sample contained cancer cells, they sat beside it. If it didn't they returned to their handler and sat beside them - they were right every single time. Cancer cells release small amounts of volatile substances which make their way into our breath, and cancer detection dogs are trained to home in on these.

We already know from research that dogs can detect prostate cancer - what we don't know is whether prostate and breast cancer smell different. This was something that I knew Walk the Walk would want to help with so when Medical Detection Dogs were planning a major study into breast cancer detection and needed help with funding the study, we jumped at it.

The research involves women donating breath samples when they attend their routine breast check. These will be sent to the charity's training centre where several dogs will sniff each sample. We are hoping that the dogs will be able to detect cancer in its very early stages which could make a real, life-saving difference. Sadly the plan isn't to put a cute puppy in every GP's surgery (although there are probably plenty of psychological benefits to be had from that!) but the findings could help scientists develop a quicker, cheaper and less invasive screening system. The charity just needed some help to get the study off the ground.

Every year over 30,000 wonderful women and men walk to raise money for Walk the Walk (not to mention all those hikers and skiers!) so we take great care when deciding how to spend all that hard-raised money. We look at each case very carefully, and if necessary, consult experts in the field. This was an easy decision, and I am delighted that Walk the Walk have chosen to support Medical Detection Dogs - providing 10,000 breath capsules so the samples can be sent in quickly and easily.

It's great to be able to help, and we wouldn't be able to do any of these things if it wasn't for our amazing walkers who get out there in all weathers, training for the MoonWalks in London, Edinburgh, Iceland or New York. So my message to all of them is that every step you take brings us one step closer to beating this thing. So thank you, and please keep on walking!