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Is There A Link Between Sleep Apnea and Cancer?

Sleep Disorders has been on the rise since the inset of the 21st century throughout the world. Sleep Apnea among all sleep disorders is the most common condition. This exponential rise in the cases of sleep apnea has led to various studies being conducted on the effects of sleep apnea on the body. The study concludes that sleep apnea or for that matter any problems with sleep affects almost all the vital organs of the body. This has led to an increased awareness among people on the risks of sleep apnea and to get the condition treated at its earliest[1].

Among the various health hazards that sleep apnea poses, cancer is one such condition which has been of interest of many researchers. The studies suggest that sleep apnea can worsen the overall prognosis of an individual battling cancer. Additionally, the two vital components of sleep apnea namely hypoxia and interrupted sleep have been directly linked to cancer promotion and affect the outcome of an individual with cancer. This article gives an explanation of whether there is a link between sleep apnea and cancer and how they are connected[1].

Is There A Link Between Sleep Apnea And Cancer?

A study conducted to determine the link between sleep apnea and cancer in which data from numerous people with sleep apnea was analyzed and it suggested about a possible link between sleep apnea and the increased risk for cancer. This risk was even more in females than males[2].

Sleep Apnea is extremely common in the United States. In this condition, there is a temporary pause in breathing while an individual is asleep. This results in the individual waking up causing interrupted sleep. A variant of sleep apnea called OSA or obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airways get blocked during sleep causing a pause in breathing. This variant of sleep apnea has been significantly rising among citizens in the United States. This is quite worrisome as obstructive sleep apnea puts an individual at risk for other conditions like hypertension and stroke[2].

Additionally, studies also suggest that obstructive sleep apnea increases the risk of an individual getting cancer. The University College of Dublin in Ireland conducted a mega analysis in which more than 20,000 people had participated to analyze the link between sleep apnea and cancer. During the study, the researchers studied the role of how severe the sleep apnea was, the concentration of blood oxygen levels, and the cancer risk associated with it[2].

They concluded that low blood oxygen concentration levels along with interrupted sleep were all biological markers of various types of cancer. However, when it comes to which sex might be more affected is something which is still a matter of ongoing research even though preliminary data suggests that female are more at risk for getting cancer due to sleep apnea[2].

The study however does not mention the actual cause of the cancer. The researchers mention cancer tends to differ between females and males due to factors like hormones affecting tumor progression. Additionally, low blood oxygen levels give rise to different forms of cancer was also mentioned in the study. This along with lifestyle habits like cigarette smoking both in males and females also played a role in increasing the risk of cancers[2].

The researchers were of the opinion that the analysis of the data mentioned above is an eye opener for physicians to be on the lookout at the time of diagnosis of sleep apnea especially in females. This is more so as the symptoms experienced by females are vastly different from what males experience and this is the reason why there is a delay in diagnosis in females[2].

The classic presentation for sleep apnea like pausing in breathing, daytime sleepiness and snoring and more prevalent in males but there are certain symptoms like morning headaches, depression and insomnia which are lesser known features are seen more in females. This makes it important for physicians to evaluate female patients accordingly when looking for sleep apnea as a diagnosis[2].

Apart from sleep apnea there are also certain other factors that play a role in increasing cancer risk in people. They are the age and overall health of the individual, lifestyle habits, family history of cancer, and body mass index. Even though there is a clear link established between sleep apnea and cancer, many researchers are still of the opinion that there is nothing to worry about[2].

According to one of the professors at the NHS Foundation Trust, who was not actually involved in the study, the data that was analyzed was collected relatively small so it is likely that the cancer risk in people with sleep apnea may be quite low. However, this does not mean that the data can be overlooked and the physician must pay close attention to the symptoms of sleep apnea especially in females so that close monitoring can be done to detect any presence of any form of cancer in such individuals[2].

In conclusion, based on the above data analysis it is quite clear that there is a link between sleep apnea and cancer. This is more seen in females as there are more hormonal changes occurring in them that promote tumor progression than males due to lack of proper sleep[2].

Thus it is vital for physicians to pay close attention to people with symptoms of sleep apnea to get the condition diagnosed early and look for any unusual hormonal changes occurring which may promote tumor progression increasing the risk of the individual getting cancer[2].


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Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 30, 2021

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