Is There A Link Between Sleep Apnea and Risk of Cancer?

Sleep apnea is quite a common medical condition characterized by excessive snoring, persistent fatigue with brief pauses while breathing when asleep. There have been studies that found those individuals with sleep apnea, have greater cancer risk. Let us take a deeper look on this in this post.

Is There A Link Between Sleep Apnea and Risk of Cancer?

Is There A Link Between Sleep Apnea and Risk of Cancer?

Close to 30 million Americans are known to have sleep apnea. However, there are many cases that remain undiagnosed. For physicians, this condition is of a great concern as Sleep Apnea causes depletion of oxygen levels in the body when sleeping at night. This more often is associated with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity.

There are two new studies that have found that, people who suffer from sleep apnea, have a higher risk of cancer. The new research marks the beginning of a new association between sleep apnea and cancer.

Though the cancer connection with sleep apnea may not be as potent as the well-known connection of sleep apnea and cardiovascular diseases; it is still not disproven that there could be a risk of cancer in patients with sleep apnea.

Let us take a look at the two studies and their conclusions regarding sleep apnea and cancer:

Study 1:

In a study done in Spain, researchers studied more than a thousand patients with sleep apnea and came to the conclusion that people with severe sleep apnea had approximately 60% more chances of getting any type of cancer. This study did not look at cancer mortality among sleep apnea patients, rather looked at the incidence of cancer. The researchers used a measure called the “Hypoxemia index”, which looks at the amount of time the oxygen level in a person’s blood drops below 90% at night.

Around 5000 individuals without any history of any form of cancer at the beginning of the study were closely followed up for approximately 8 years. The researchers concluded that greater the severity of hypoxemia in an individual meaning the greater the depletion in oxygen level when asleep the more likely are the chances of the individual developing cancer while participating in the study.

Study 2:

In the second study of 1500 workers who worked for the state department in Wisconsin, it was revealed people with severe breathing disorder while sleeping at night had more than 5 times greater risk of succumbing from cancer than people without this condition.

A team was formed from University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health to analyze extensive data on Wisconsin state workers who were a part of the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort which conduct frequent sleep studies on workers since 1989. The data was one of its kind and revealed extensive occurrences of sleep apnea among general public.

The team came to a conclusion that the severity of a person’s breathing problems at night was directly proportional to the chances of succumbing to a type of cancer.

Researchers concluded that people with moderate sleep apnea had 50% more chance of succumbing to cancer than people without this condition. Those suffering from severe issues of sleep apnea have 5 times more chances of succumbing to cancer than people without this condition.

It should be noted here that both the teams only analyzed the data pertaining to the diagnosis of cancer and the overall prognosis without noting down the type of cancer that the individual in the study developed. The researchers in both the studies ruled out other possible risk factors of cancer, such as age, nicotine use, physical activity, alcohol use, and weight of the individual which may have had a role to play in development of cancer. However, the link of cancer and breathing disorder was still well known even after ruling out the above mentioned risk factors.

It should also be mentioned that some researchers who were not directly involved with these studies named these findings as provoking but also mentioned that further research and study was necessary to establish a confirmed link between sleep apnea and cancer risk. The felt that the studies were more of an observation and there may be other unknown factors that may be associated with the link between sleep apnea and cancer.


From the studies it was found that there may be risk of cancer in patients with sleep apnea. So, treating the condition of sleep apnea might reduce the association. Always make sure to see your doctor if you experience symptoms of sleep apnea and keep yourself safe from the associated problems.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 31, 2018

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