Sleep Apnea and Cancer: New Studies Find Possible Link

According to recent studies, researchers believe they may have found a link between Sleep Apnea and an increased risk of cancer and cancer mortality. Sleep Apnea, which plagues nearly 28 million Americans, causes excessive snoring and pauses in breathing during sleep. Already implicated in several severe medical conditions such as Hypertension, Heart Disease, and Stroke, researchers now have evidence for a link between the effects of Sleep Apnea and an increased risk for cancer and cancer-related mortality. One study conducted by the University of Barcelona in Spain found that simulating Sleep Apnea in mice—by depriving them of oxygen periodically—resulted in tumors growing at a more rapid rate. Furthermore, the study suggests that this is due in part to cancer cells that produce more molecules for blood vessel growth when deprived of oxygen. This increased cellular growth increases the amount of cancerous tissue in the body.

Another study at the Spanish Sleep Network examined the link between Sleep Apnea and instances of cancer. Over 5,000 cancer-free participants were monitored for 7 years. Researchers tracked their hypoxemia index, the measurement of blood oxygen levels below 90 percent, during sleep. Subjects with a 12% or greater hypoxemia index number were 68% more likely to develop cancer. The study did not, however, examine the impact of Sleep Apnea treatments on cancer remission or survival.

Doctors and researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health collaborated with Dr. Ramon Farre from the University of Barcelona to conduct a study on over 1,500 human subjects. The study, which began in 1989, followed the mortality rate of its subjects for 22 years. According to Dr. F. Javier Nieto, the lead author of the study, they found that patients who suffered from severe Sleep Apnea were more likely to die of cancer than those subjects without Sleep Apnea.

While this information may appear daunting, scientists are reluctant to label a cause/effect relationship between Sleep Apnea and instances of cancer and cancer mortality. Researchers did account for variables such as age, sex, smoking, and BMI (body mass index) during the study; however, Dr. Nieto admits that other factors could be responsible for the results, though he finds this highly unlikely.

Dr. Jeffrey Durmer, Chief Medical Officer of FusionSleep®, agrees that the apparent link between Sleep Apnea and tumor progression needs further research before scientists can conclusively confirm whether sleep apnea causes or worsens a person’s risk of cancer mortality. Dr. Durmer suggested that the connection between Sleep Apnea and cancer may be due to the cortisol and other circulating hormones produced in response to Sleep Apnea as well as the response from intermittent hypoxia. “What we do know for certain,” says Dr. Durmer, “is that as we learn more and more about the effects of Sleep Apnea and sleep disorders on the body and brain, we have a better understanding of the significant role that healthy sleep plays in maintaining wellness and disease prevention.”

Further research to confirm these findings will be required; however, these studies reinforce the importance of restful and restorative sleep for the body’s overall health and wellness.