TEARS, laughter, bleeding feet and coloured bras; it's a combination that can only mean one thing.

Thousands of women, men and children taking part in the annual Moonwalk last night, pounding the streets of Edinburgh in all manner of outfits to raise money – and awareness – in support of people with breast cancer.

The event, which sees people dressed in decorated bras walk a quarter, half, full or double marathon over night, first took place in Edinburgh in 2006, and has raised £19million to date,.

That has funded breast care wards and improvements in hospitals and Maggie's Centre in Glasgow, Airdrie and a new centre in Larbert, opening later this year.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Scotland – one in eight women will develop it in their lifetime – and organisers said many of the walkers had deeply personal reasons for taking part.

Irene McIntosh, 58, and her husband Graham, 61, from Inverkip, Renfrewshire, have raised around £10k over the past 11 years at the event, and planned on walking the 26.2 miles dressed as their version of the Krankies – 'The Brankies' – with a nod to both the "all things Scottish" theme and coloured bras.

The event took on a more serious tone from them when Irene's sister was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago.

She said: "It started as a bit of fun with people I worked with but now it means so much to me because of what my sister has gone through. It became more personal and close to our hearts.

"The year she was diagnosed was tough. The ground was very wet during the walk and my feet got soaked through. I was in severe pain but when Graham asked if I wanted to give up I said: "no way".

"I just kept a picture of her in my mind because she was going through a lot worse than me; she was getting radiotherapy, chemotherapy, had lost of her hair. I would have crawled over the line if necessary.

"When I took off my socks they were red with blood. I lost nine toe nails and had something similar to trench foot. But there was no way I wouldn't have done it."

Graham added: "I started doing this in 2012 to support Irene because she was really emotional about her sister. But to be honest it's the best thing I've ever done. I'm now an avid walker. It's not a challenge to be sniffed at."

He is far from the only man, he added, with some taking part to remember wives, partners, mothers, sisters and friends they have lost to cancer.

Alison Craig, 45, is a breast cancer survivor, and reaching her 10th MoonWalk, taking part along with her 14 year old twin daughters doing it for the first time. Weeks after doing her first walk, she was diagnosed with breast cancer herself at just 34.

She said: "I received my treatment at the Western General Hospital. The medical help I got was great, but when I first started going there, the environment at the hospital left a lot to be desired. I remember the waiting room seemed like it was the size of the cupboard. Thanks to funding from Walk the Walk, it has had a well-needed transformation. It gives me a warm feeling to think that money I have raised through taking part in The MoonWalk has helped make this happen."

Nina Barough set up breast cancer charity Walk the Walk, which runs the event, 20 years ago after dreaming that she had power walked the New York marathon in a bra to raise money for breast cancer research.

She was diagnosed with an aggressive tumour just months after she and friends took part in the first Moonwalk style fundraiser.

Events now run around in the world including London, Paris, Iceland, the Artic and even along the Inca Trail in Peru.

Now chief executive, she said: "Twenty years ago it felt controversial and I thought the women who took part were so brave. I still think that now.

"We inspire women who may never as much as had a pair of trainers, to do a marathon, and others who wouldn't wear a bikini on the beach to come onto the streets of Edinburgh wearing a decorated bra. It's thrilling to see how far we have come. But we still on such an important mission."