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We need to do more to close the gap in cancer outcomes | Sanchia Aranda

Money, cultural background and geographic location are crucial in determining survival rates

Bright lights at the end of a hospital corridor


Bright lights at the end of a hospital corridor Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

This week Cancer Council released new data forecasting cancer survival trends into the future. The statistics, outlining an expected 72% increase in the number of Australians living with cancer or in remission by the year 2040, were startling – but even more concerning are the trends that show the gap between the haves and have-nots when it comes to cancer survival.

The new report, released in the lead up to World Cancer Day, held on 4 February, show that when it comes to cancer, things just aren’t as equal as they should be.

In Australia, the poorest among us are 30% more likely to die of cancer than the richest. There is also a big gap in cancer outcomes for our Indigenous Australian population, where incident rates from cancer are 10% higher than non-Indigenous Australians and mortality rates are 30% higher.

Similarly, cancer incidence (particularly cancers with poorer prognoses) and mortality are significantly higher outside capital cities, with outcomes worsening in step with remoteness.

On top of all of this, there are increasing differences in survival rates between different cancer types.

By the year 2040, the most common cancers Australians will have survived are breast, prostate, bowel and melanoma. These are all common cancer types where we have seen positive improvements in awareness, better early detection, and, ultimately, treatment (and even with those advances, thousands of Australians die from these cancers each year, often in ways that can be prevented).

However, another common cancer type, lung cancer, features a much lower survival rate and highlights the need for greater investment in early detection and treatment for this cancer. Rarer cancers with poorer overall survival, such as pancreatic cancer, make up an even smaller proportion of survivors.

So why are money, cultural background, geographic location and cancer types leading to some Australians being left behind?

More research is required to definitively pinpoint why these trends are occurring, but several factors stand out. More needs to be done to promote healthy lifestyles and cancer prevention to some parts of our community.

As an example, we know that smoking rates are higher in Indigenous populations and among poorer Australians and also link to cancers with poorer prognosis such as lung cancer.

Continued investment in anti-smoking campaigns tailored to these communities is critical in reducing this disparity. Currently around 40% of Indigenous Australians smoke compared with 12.2% of the general Australian population. In remote communities, this rises to around 60%.

Other unhealthy lifestyles that can increase cancer risk, including excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, an unhealthy diet and obesity, are also more prevalent among socio-economically disadvantaged populations.

We also know that some parts of our community are less likely to detect cancer early. Australia has world-leading screening programs for bowel, breast and cervical cancer, but participation rates remain low, and participation lags behind in communities where health literacy is lower.

For example, cervical cancer mortality in Indigenous women is more than four times that of non-Indigenous women, which largely reflects far lower screening rates.

Finally, we know that the financial impact of cancer, something we call “financial toxicity”, impacts diagnosis and treatment decisions and this is likely to be particularly the case for poorer Australians with less capacity to absorb the costs of undergoing cancer treatment.

Australia has a good health system by world standards, but it’s the additional out-of-pocket and indirect costs of cancer that seem to allow the poorest people in our community to fall behind.

It’s the cost of accommodation for those travelling to treatment and parking, it’s the cost of having to quit your job while having treatment, it’s the financial impact on carers who also leave their jobs to support their loved one. I was staggered by the $ 2,500 bill my niece received for radiology tests at diagnosis of cancer, none of which was reimbursable through Medicare.

These costs are often exaggerated for our regional and remote cancer patients who have greater travel requirements and often lose the capacity to work even part-time.

We also know that doctors working in the private system often fail to disclose expected medical costs or to inform patients of lower cost alternatives within the public health system.

This has sadly led to cancer patients mortgaging their homes and putting their finances on the line to pay excessive out-of-pocket costs that are simply not justifiable. Cancer Council continues to call for health practitioners to disclose financial costs of treatment alongside information about other treatment options.

This report highlights the importance of funding research aimed at closing the survival gap for those cancers that continue to have poorer survival rates. We also need to translate the learnings and advances gained in cancers like breast cancer to other types.

Cancer Council funds research across all cancer types, and projects like Forgotten Cancers put low-survival cancers in the spotlight, but there is always so much more to be done. There are lost opportunities in particular when it comes to using our existing health system to detect rare cancers sooner, in order to increase the chances of successful treatment. In the UK and Denmark for example, gains have been made through setting benchmarks for time to diagnosis that help to avoid delays and get people into treatment sooner.

As a charity, Cancer Council can only fund a tiny fraction of what could be achieved through enhanced use of Australia’s $ 170 billion total annual health budget, of which only around 3% goes to cancer and around 1% to disease prevention. But we can engage with everyone to help make things better and work towards reducing these unacceptable disparities in cancer outcomes.

Professor Sanchia Aranda is the CEO of Cancer Council Australia

Prostate cancer now kills more people than breast cancer, UK figures reveal

Male illness now third most common cause of cancer death behind lung and bowel

Light micrograph showing prostate cancer


Prostate cancer killed 11,819 men in the UK in 2015. Photograph: Steve Gschmeissner/Getty Images/Science Photo Library

Prostate cancer has become the third most common cause of cancer death in the UK, overtaking breast cancer, despite improvements in survival rates for both.

The top cancer killer in the UK is lung cancer, which claimed 35,486 lives in 2015, followed by colorectal cancer, with a toll of 16,067 people.

However, new figures reveal that 11,819 men died in the UK from prostate cancer in 2015, overtaking breast cancer, which resulted in the deaths of 11,442 women. While not included in the data, about 80 men are also thought to have died from breast cancer in 2015.

Angela Culhane, chief executive of the charity Prostate Cancer UK which collated the figures, said the number of prostate cancer deaths had risen as a result of an ageing population, while improvements in research and screening meant the same effect was not seen for breast cancer.

“We haven’t yet got the big game-changing advances that breast cancer has had in terms of the screening programme and also the precision medicine developments,” said Culhane, adding that breast cancer had received twice as much money for research as prostate cancer. “We need to bust that myth that it is just an old man’s disease that you don’t need to think is significant,” she added.

According to the charity, while 72,513 pieces of research had been published on prostate cancer since 1999, more than 146,000 had been published on breast cancer. Meanwhile, Prostate Cancer UK estimates that £120m is needed for research over the next eight years to halve the number of prostate cancer deaths expected by 2026.

“We want to learn from what they have been able to achieve [for breast cancer] and we can see the correlation between that investment in research and the progress that then follows in terms of reducing the number of deaths,” said Culhane.

But despite the rise in the number of prostate cancer deaths, the bigger picture was positive, said Culhane. “If you compare to 10, 20 years ago, survival rates are generally getting better, that is certainly the case for both prostate and breast [cancer].”

Michael Chapman, director of information and involvement at Cancer Research UK, agreed. “The number of men getting and dying from prostate cancer is increasing mostly because of population growth and because we are living longer,” he said. “If we take into account our growing and ageing population, the death rate for both breast and prostate cancer is falling, though it is falling faster for breast than prostate cancer.”

Roger Wotton, chairman of Tackle Prostate Cancer, said. “This is a wake-up call for men and for the health service. Women have screening for breast cancer and this is one reason why mortality rates for prostate cancer are now higher than those for breast cancer. We need to get the prostate cancer mortality figures down, particularly as one third of men diagnosed already have advanced prostate cancer. We need earlier diagnosis and a better-informed testing regime.”

Prostate cancer now kills more people than breast cancer, UK figures reveal

Male illness now third most common cause of cancer death behind lung and bowel

Light micrograph showing prostate cancer


Prostate cancer killed 11,819 men in the UK in 2015. Photograph: Steve Gschmeissner/Getty Images/Science Photo Library

Prostate cancer has become the third most common cause of cancer death in the UK, overtaking breast cancer, despite improvements in survival rates for both.

The top cancer killer in the UK is lung cancer, which claimed 35,486 lives in 2015, followed by colorectal cancer, with a toll of 16,067 people.

However, new figures reveal that 11,819 men died in the UK from prostate cancer in 2015, overtaking breast cancer, which resulted in the deaths of 11,442 women. While not included in the data, about 80 men are also thought to have died from breast cancer in 2015.

Angela Culhane, chief executive of the charity Prostate Cancer UK which collated the figures, said the number of prostate cancer deaths had risen as a result of an ageing population, while improvements in research and screening meant the same effect was not seen for breast cancer.

“We haven’t yet got the big game-changing advances that breast cancer has had in terms of the screening programme and also the precision medicine developments,” said Culhane, adding that breast cancer had received twice as much money for research as prostate cancer. “We need to bust that myth that it is just an old man’s disease that you don’t need to think is significant,” she added.

According to the charity, while 72,513 pieces of research had been published on prostate cancer since 1999, more than 146,000 had been published on breast cancer. Meanwhile, Prostate Cancer UK estimates that £120m is needed for research over the next eight years to halve the number of prostate cancer deaths expected by 2026.

“We want to learn from what they have been able to achieve [for breast cancer] and we can see the correlation between that investment in research and the progress that then follows in terms of reducing the number of deaths,” said Culhane.

But despite the rise in the number of prostate cancer deaths, the bigger picture was positive, said Culhane. “If you compare to 10, 20 years ago, survival rates are generally getting better, that is certainly the case for both prostate and breast [cancer].”

Michael Chapman, director of information and involvement at Cancer Research UK, agreed. “The number of men getting and dying from prostate cancer is increasing mostly because of population growth and because we are living longer,” he said. “If we take into account our growing and ageing population, the death rate for both breast and prostate cancer is falling, though it is falling faster for breast than prostate cancer.”

Roger Wotton, chairman of Tackle Prostate Cancer, said. “This is a wake-up call for men and for the health service. Women have screening for breast cancer and this is one reason why mortality rates for prostate cancer are now higher than those for breast cancer. We need to get the prostate cancer mortality figures down, particularly as one third of men diagnosed already have advanced prostate cancer. We need earlier diagnosis and a better-informed testing regime.”

Prostate cancer now kills more people than breast cancer, UK figures reveal

Male illness now third most common cause of cancer death behind lung and bowel

Light micrograph showing prostate cancer


Prostate cancer killed 11,819 men in the UK in 2015. Photograph: Steve Gschmeissner/Getty Images/Science Photo Library

Prostate cancer has become the third most common cause of cancer death in the UK, overtaking breast cancer, despite improvements in survival rates for both.

The top cancer killer in the UK is lung cancer, which claimed 35,486 lives in 2015, followed by colorectal cancer, with a toll of 16,067 people.

However, new figures reveal that 11,819 men died in the UK from prostate cancer in 2015, overtaking breast cancer, which resulted in the deaths of 11,442 women. While not included in the data, about 80 men are also thought to have died from breast cancer in 2015.

Angela Culhane, chief executive of the charity Prostate Cancer UK which collated the figures, said the number of prostate cancer deaths had risen as a result of an ageing population, while improvements in research and screening meant the same effect was not seen for breast cancer.

“We haven’t yet got the big game-changing advances that breast cancer has had in terms of the screening programme and also the precision medicine developments,” said Culhane, adding that breast cancer had received twice as much money for research as prostate cancer. “We need to bust that myth that it is just an old man’s disease that you don’t need to think is significant,” she added.

According to the charity, while 72,513 pieces of research had been published on prostate cancer since 1999, more than 146,000 had been published on breast cancer. Meanwhile, Prostate Cancer UK estimates that £120m is needed for research over the next eight years to halve the number of prostate cancer deaths expected by 2026.

“We want to learn from what they have been able to achieve [for breast cancer] and we can see the correlation between that investment in research and the progress that then follows in terms of reducing the number of deaths,” said Culhane.

But despite the rise in the number of prostate cancer deaths, the bigger picture was positive, said Culhane. “If you compare to 10, 20 years ago, survival rates are generally getting better, that is certainly the case for both prostate and breast [cancer].”

Michael Chapman, director of information and involvement at Cancer Research UK, agreed. “The number of men getting and dying from prostate cancer is increasing mostly because of population growth and because we are living longer,” he said. “If we take into account our growing and ageing population, the death rate for both breast and prostate cancer is falling, though it is falling faster for breast than prostate cancer.”

Roger Wotton, chairman of Tackle Prostate Cancer, said. “This is a wake-up call for men and for the health service. Women have screening for breast cancer and this is one reason why mortality rates for prostate cancer are now higher than those for breast cancer. We need to get the prostate cancer mortality figures down, particularly as one third of men diagnosed already have advanced prostate cancer. We need earlier diagnosis and a better-informed testing regime.”

Prostate cancer now kills more people than breast cancer, UK figures reveal

Male illness now third most common cause of cancer death behind lung and bowel

Light micrograph showing prostate cancer


Prostate cancer killed 11,819 men in the UK in 2015. Photograph: Steve Gschmeissner/Getty Images/Science Photo Library

Prostate cancer has become the third most common cause of cancer death in the UK, overtaking breast cancer, despite improvements in survival rates for both.

The top cancer killer in the UK is lung cancer, which claimed 35,486 lives in 2015, followed by colorectal cancer, with a toll of 16,067 people.

However, new figures reveal that 11,819 men died in the UK from prostate cancer in 2015, overtaking breast cancer, which resulted in the deaths of 11,442 women. While not included in the data, about 80 men are also thought to have died from breast cancer in 2015.

Angela Culhane, chief executive of the charity Prostate Cancer UK which collated the figures, said the number of prostate cancer deaths had risen as a result of an ageing population, while improvements in research and screening meant the same effect was not seen for breast cancer.

“We haven’t yet got the big game-changing advances that breast cancer has had in terms of the screening programme and also the precision medicine developments,” said Culhane, adding that breast cancer had received twice as much money for research as prostate cancer. “We need to bust that myth that it is just an old man’s disease that you don’t need to think is significant,” she added.

According to the charity, while 72,513 pieces of research had been published on prostate cancer since 1999, more than 146,000 had been published on breast cancer. Meanwhile, Prostate Cancer UK estimates that £120m is needed for research over the next eight years to halve the number of prostate cancer deaths expected by 2026.

“We want to learn from what they have been able to achieve [for breast cancer] and we can see the correlation between that investment in research and the progress that then follows in terms of reducing the number of deaths,” said Culhane.

But despite the rise in the number of prostate cancer deaths, the bigger picture was positive, said Culhane. “If you compare to 10, 20 years ago, survival rates are generally getting better, that is certainly the case for both prostate and breast [cancer].”

Michael Chapman, director of information and involvement at Cancer Research UK, agreed. “The number of men getting and dying from prostate cancer is increasing mostly because of population growth and because we are living longer,” he said. “If we take into account our growing and ageing population, the death rate for both breast and prostate cancer is falling, though it is falling faster for breast than prostate cancer.”

Roger Wotton, chairman of Tackle Prostate Cancer, said. “This is a wake-up call for men and for the health service. Women have screening for breast cancer and this is one reason why mortality rates for prostate cancer are now higher than those for breast cancer. We need to get the prostate cancer mortality figures down, particularly as one third of men diagnosed already have advanced prostate cancer. We need earlier diagnosis and a better-informed testing regime.”

Hot or not? Bikram no more beneficial than any other yoga, says vascular study

Yoga could help to improve function of artery linings regardless of room temperature, researchers conclude

Bikram yoga is performed in a studio heated to 40.5C and involves 26 poses and two breathing exercises.


Bikram yoga is performed in a studio heated to 40.5C and involves 26 poses and two breathing exercises. Photograph: Karen Yeomans/PR

While the popularity of practising yoga in sweltering rooms is booming around the world, researchers say benefits to blood vessels are the same whether the moves are performed in the heat or not.

Bikram yoga was founded by controversial instructor Bikram Choudhury and involves 26 poses and two breathing exercises, performed in a room heated to just over 40C (104F).

Having first taken off in the 1970s, Bikram yoga classes are now widespread, with some research suggesting they could offer health benefits including improving the function of the inner lining of blood vessels – problems with which are linked to increased risk of fatty plaques building up inside arteries.

But now researchers say the potential vascular benefits of Bikram are not down to the heat.

“The postures and the breathing exercises are enough in the absence of the heated environment to elicit some beneficial adaptations that could reduce the risk of heart disease,” said Dr Stacey Hunter, co-author of the research from Texas State University and research director for yoga-promoting organisation Pure Action Inc, which funded the study.

It is not the first time that yoga has been linked to health benefits, with previous studies suggesting it could be as good as cycling or a brisk walk in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, for example.

However little work has gone into unpicking the impact of different types of yoga, some of which are more intense that others, or how much yoga is needed for benefits to be seen.

Writing in the journal Experimental Physiology, Hunter and colleagues describe how they randomly assigned healthy but sedentary middle-aged adults to one of three groups. While 19 participants carried on as usual, 14 undertook 12 weeks of three 90-minute Bikram classes at room temperature and 19 participants undertook Bikram classes at 40.5C.

A range of measurements were taken as part of the study including weight, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and the ability for the main artery in the forearm to dilate in response to increased blood flow – a measure of the function of the inner blood vessel lining.

The results reveal that while both yoga groups showed improvements in function of their artery lining, the size of the benefits was the same regardless of the temperature of the classes. Those who did not do yoga showed no improvements.

No significant effect on blood pressure, cholesterol, blood lipids, weight or blood glucose was seen for any of the groups, but the team note that those undertaking hot yoga showed a small drop in body fat, possibly due to extra energy being used.

Paulus Kirchhof, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Birmingham, said that, generally speaking, the impact of yoga on health was not yet clear.

“Yoga, similar to other behaviours, can help to improve vascular health. Whether yoga per se is particularly effective to reduce blood pressure, or whether yoga has similar effects as regular physical exercise [for example], is less clear,” he said, adding that he would advise people undertake the recommended 30-45 minutes of moderate activity five times a week, with yoga as an optional addition.

Julie Ward, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said previous studies had shown some improvements in measures including blood pressure and cholesterol, but that high temperatures could be dangerous for those with underlying heart conditions.

“This study, although interesting, is a very small study and has significant limitations, so more research would be needed to confirm the findings,” she told the Guardian.

But that doesn’t mean people should roll up their mats. “The benefits of yoga on emotional health are well established and any physical activities that can help reduce our risk of a deadly heart attack or stroke should be encouraged,” said Ward.

Hot or not? Bikram no more beneficial than any other yoga, says vascular study

Yoga could help to improve function of artery linings regardless of room temperature, researchers conclude

Bikram yoga is performed in a studio heated to 40.5C and involves 26 poses and two breathing exercises.


Bikram yoga is performed in a studio heated to 40.5C and involves 26 poses and two breathing exercises. Photograph: Karen Yeomans/PR

While the popularity of practising yoga in sweltering rooms is booming around the world, researchers say benefits to blood vessels are the same whether the moves are performed in the heat or not.

Bikram yoga was founded by controversial instructor Bikram Choudhury and involves 26 poses and two breathing exercises, performed in a room heated to just over 40C (104F).

Having first taken off in the 1970s, Bikram yoga classes are now widespread, with some research suggesting they could offer health benefits including improving the function of the inner lining of blood vessels – problems with which are linked to increased risk of fatty plaques building up inside arteries.

But now researchers say the potential vascular benefits of Bikram are not down to the heat.

“The postures and the breathing exercises are enough in the absence of the heated environment to elicit some beneficial adaptations that could reduce the risk of heart disease,” said Dr Stacey Hunter, co-author of the research from Texas State University and research director for yoga-promoting organisation Pure Action Inc, which funded the study.

It is not the first time that yoga has been linked to health benefits, with previous studies suggesting it could be as good as cycling or a brisk walk in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, for example.

However little work has gone into unpicking the impact of different types of yoga, some of which are more intense that others, or how much yoga is needed for benefits to be seen.

Writing in the journal Experimental Physiology, Hunter and colleagues describe how they randomly assigned healthy but sedentary middle-aged adults to one of three groups. While 19 participants carried on as usual, 14 undertook 12 weeks of three 90-minute Bikram classes at room temperature and 19 participants undertook Bikram classes at 40.5C.

A range of measurements were taken as part of the study including weight, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and the ability for the main artery in the forearm to dilate in response to increased blood flow – a measure of the function of the inner blood vessel lining.

The results reveal that while both yoga groups showed improvements in function of their artery lining, the size of the benefits was the same regardless of the temperature of the classes. Those who did not do yoga showed no improvements.

No significant effect on blood pressure, cholesterol, blood lipids, weight or blood glucose was seen for any of the groups, but the team note that those undertaking hot yoga showed a small drop in body fat, possibly due to extra energy being used.

Paulus Kirchhof, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Birmingham, said that, generally speaking, the impact of yoga on health was not yet clear.

“Yoga, similar to other behaviours, can help to improve vascular health. Whether yoga per se is particularly effective to reduce blood pressure, or whether yoga has similar effects as regular physical exercise [for example], is less clear,” he said, adding that he would advise people undertake the recommended 30-45 minutes of moderate activity five times a week, with yoga as an optional addition.

Julie Ward, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said previous studies had shown some improvements in measures including blood pressure and cholesterol, but that high temperatures could be dangerous for those with underlying heart conditions.

“This study, although interesting, is a very small study and has significant limitations, so more research would be needed to confirm the findings,” she told the Guardian.

But that doesn’t mean people should roll up their mats. “The benefits of yoga on emotional health are well established and any physical activities that can help reduce our risk of a deadly heart attack or stroke should be encouraged,” said Ward.

Hot or not? Bikram no more beneficial than any other yoga, says vascular study

Yoga could help to improve function of artery linings regardless of room temperature, researchers conclude

Bikram yoga is performed in a studio heated to 40.5C and involves 26 poses and two breathing exercises.


Bikram yoga is performed in a studio heated to 40.5C and involves 26 poses and two breathing exercises. Photograph: Karen Yeomans/PR

While the popularity of practising yoga in sweltering rooms is booming around the world, researchers say benefits to blood vessels are the same whether the moves are performed in the heat or not.

Bikram yoga was founded by controversial instructor Bikram Choudhury and involves 26 poses and two breathing exercises, performed in a room heated to just over 40C (104F).

Having first taken off in the 1970s, Bikram yoga classes are now widespread, with some research suggesting they could offer health benefits including improving the function of the inner lining of blood vessels – problems with which are linked to increased risk of fatty plaques building up inside arteries.

But now researchers say the potential vascular benefits of Bikram are not down to the heat.

“The postures and the breathing exercises are enough in the absence of the heated environment to elicit some beneficial adaptations that could reduce the risk of heart disease,” said Dr Stacey Hunter, co-author of the research from Texas State University and research director for yoga-promoting organisation Pure Action Inc, which funded the study.

It is not the first time that yoga has been linked to health benefits, with previous studies suggesting it could be as good as cycling or a brisk walk in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, for example.

However little work has gone into unpicking the impact of different types of yoga, some of which are more intense that others, or how much yoga is needed for benefits to be seen.

Writing in the journal Experimental Physiology, Hunter and colleagues describe how they randomly assigned healthy but sedentary middle-aged adults to one of three groups. While 19 participants carried on as usual, 14 undertook 12 weeks of three 90-minute Bikram classes at room temperature and 19 participants undertook Bikram classes at 40.5C.

A range of measurements were taken as part of the study including weight, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and the ability for the main artery in the forearm to dilate in response to increased blood flow – a measure of the function of the inner blood vessel lining.

The results reveal that while both yoga groups showed improvements in function of their artery lining, the size of the benefits was the same regardless of the temperature of the classes. Those who did not do yoga showed no improvements.

No significant effect on blood pressure, cholesterol, blood lipids, weight or blood glucose was seen for any of the groups, but the team note that those undertaking hot yoga showed a small drop in body fat, possibly due to extra energy being used.

Paulus Kirchhof, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Birmingham, said that, generally speaking, the impact of yoga on health was not yet clear.

“Yoga, similar to other behaviours, can help to improve vascular health. Whether yoga per se is particularly effective to reduce blood pressure, or whether yoga has similar effects as regular physical exercise [for example], is less clear,” he said, adding that he would advise people undertake the recommended 30-45 minutes of moderate activity five times a week, with yoga as an optional addition.

Julie Ward, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said previous studies had shown some improvements in measures including blood pressure and cholesterol, but that high temperatures could be dangerous for those with underlying heart conditions.

“This study, although interesting, is a very small study and has significant limitations, so more research would be needed to confirm the findings,” she told the Guardian.

But that doesn’t mean people should roll up their mats. “The benefits of yoga on emotional health are well established and any physical activities that can help reduce our risk of a deadly heart attack or stroke should be encouraged,” said Ward.

Hot or not? Bikram no more beneficial than any other yoga, says vascular study

Yoga could help to improve function of artery linings regardless of room temperature, researchers conclude

Bikram yoga is performed in a studio heated to 40.5C and involves 26 poses and two breathing exercises.


Bikram yoga is performed in a studio heated to 40.5C and involves 26 poses and two breathing exercises. Photograph: Karen Yeomans/PR

While the popularity of practising yoga in sweltering rooms is booming around the world, researchers say benefits to blood vessels are the same whether the moves are performed in the heat or not.

Bikram yoga was founded by controversial instructor Bikram Choudhury and involves 26 poses and two breathing exercises, performed in a room heated to just over 40C (104F).

Having first taken off in the 1970s, Bikram yoga classes are now widespread, with some research suggesting they could offer health benefits including improving the function of the inner lining of blood vessels – problems with which are linked to increased risk of fatty plaques building up inside arteries.

But now researchers say the potential vascular benefits of Bikram are not down to the heat.

“The postures and the breathing exercises are enough in the absence of the heated environment to elicit some beneficial adaptations that could reduce the risk of heart disease,” said Dr Stacey Hunter, co-author of the research from Texas State University and research director for yoga-promoting organisation Pure Action Inc, which funded the study.

It is not the first time that yoga has been linked to health benefits, with previous studies suggesting it could be as good as cycling or a brisk walk in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, for example.

However little work has gone into unpicking the impact of different types of yoga, some of which are more intense that others, or how much yoga is needed for benefits to be seen.

Writing in the journal Experimental Physiology, Hunter and colleagues describe how they randomly assigned healthy but sedentary middle-aged adults to one of three groups. While 19 participants carried on as usual, 14 undertook 12 weeks of three 90-minute Bikram classes at room temperature and 19 participants undertook Bikram classes at 40.5C.

A range of measurements were taken as part of the study including weight, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and the ability for the main artery in the forearm to dilate in response to increased blood flow – a measure of the function of the inner blood vessel lining.

The results reveal that while both yoga groups showed improvements in function of their artery lining, the size of the benefits was the same regardless of the temperature of the classes. Those who did not do yoga showed no improvements.

No significant effect on blood pressure, cholesterol, blood lipids, weight or blood glucose was seen for any of the groups, but the team note that those undertaking hot yoga showed a small drop in body fat, possibly due to extra energy being used.

Paulus Kirchhof, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Birmingham, said that, generally speaking, the impact of yoga on health was not yet clear.

“Yoga, similar to other behaviours, can help to improve vascular health. Whether yoga per se is particularly effective to reduce blood pressure, or whether yoga has similar effects as regular physical exercise [for example], is less clear,” he said, adding that he would advise people undertake the recommended 30-45 minutes of moderate activity five times a week, with yoga as an optional addition.

Julie Ward, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said previous studies had shown some improvements in measures including blood pressure and cholesterol, but that high temperatures could be dangerous for those with underlying heart conditions.

“This study, although interesting, is a very small study and has significant limitations, so more research would be needed to confirm the findings,” she told the Guardian.

But that doesn’t mean people should roll up their mats. “The benefits of yoga on emotional health are well established and any physical activities that can help reduce our risk of a deadly heart attack or stroke should be encouraged,” said Ward.

Doctors should order more blood cancer tests, MPs say

TV presenter Simon Thomas, whose wife died from a rare form of blood cancer last year, is calling for better training of GPs

Sky sports presenter, Simon Thomas


The Sky Sports presenter Simon Thomas says doctors only diagnosed his wife’s acute myeloid leukaemia three days before she died. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

The Sky Sports presenter Simon Thomas has revealed that doctors missed his wife’s blood cancer three times in the days before her death.

Thomas called for better training of GPs on the same day as politicians said doctors should order blood tests for any patient who shows symptoms of blood cancer.

Thomas’s wife, Gemma, died aged 40 in November, just three days after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), a rare form of the disease.

Gemma initially had flu-like symptoms and went to see a doctor three times over the course of six days before she was finally admitted to hospital, where her condition continued to deteriorate, despite intensive chemotherapy treatment.

Since then, her husband Simon has raised more than £30,000 for charity. The money has been divided between Maggie’s Centres, a charity which offers support to people affected by cancer, and a refugee project that Gemma had launched.

On Wednesday, Thomas tweeted: “Three times my wife Gemma went to the doctor in six days and three times she was sent home and told to rest.

“Four days after her final visit to the her GP she was dead. We have to help and train our GPs and to detect blood cancer earlier.”

Simon Thomas (@SimonThomasSky)

Three times my wife Gemma went to the doctor in six days and three times she was sent home and told to rest. Four days after her final visit to her GP she was dead. We have to help and train our GP’s and to detect #bloodcancer earlier. @bloodwise_uk is doing this. #hiddencancer https://t.co/V1uEz1HCLF

January 17, 2018

Simon Thomas (@SimonThomasSky)

Acute Myeloid Leukaemia took my wife Gemma and Ethan’s Mum just before Christmas aged only 40 years and just three days after being diagnosed. This is so important. @bloodwise_uk https://t.co/V1uEz1HCLF

January 17, 2018

Thomas, 44, has been tweeting and blogging about his grief following Gemma’s death from AML, which affects around 2,600 people in Britain each year.

Thomas said he doesn’t blame the doctors who initially saw his wife before she was taken to hospital, but has encouraged people to seek a diagnosis from medics if they continue to feel unwell.

Simon Thomas (@SimonThomasSky)

The darkness will hopefully not overcome. pic.twitter.com/umuBOT0TdW

January 2, 2018

The all-party parliamentary group on blood cancer said on Wednesday that many signs of blood cancer can be “misunderstood or misdiagnosed”.

In a new report, the group said that diagnosing blood cancer – such as leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma – can be “complex”.

Highlighting one patient group, MPs described how some elderly myeloma patients reporting symptoms of back ache and bone pain are told their symptom is “part of the ageing process”.

In order to improve early diagnosis rates, they called on GPs to immediately order a blood test for anyone presenting with one or more symptoms of blood cancer.

Symptoms of blood cancers can be similar to the symptoms of feeling “run down” or flu, such as fatigue, night sweats, weight loss, bruising and pain, they said.

The chair of the patient group, Henry Smith, an MP whose mother died from acute myeloid leukaemia in 2012, said: “Blood cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK and someone is diagnosed every 14 minutes.

“Delays in diagnosis can have a severe impact on an individual’s chance of survival, as well as on their quality of life.”

Commenting on the report, professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ““Each type of blood cancer can present in a varied way and GPs will base their decisions around what diagnostic testing is most appropriate on the symptoms being displayed by, and the unique circumstances potentially affecting, the patient in front of us.

“Any decision to pursue opportunistic testing must not be undertaken lightly as GPs need a good scientific evidence base before they order any investigations.”