Sleep is an essential piece in our body’s daily routine. It helps our body restore itself, remove waste, and regulate our metabolism. So it’s no surprise that when sleep apnea disrupts your sleep, the consequences for your health can be severe and far-ranging.

One of the potential effects of sleep apnea is an increase in cancer risk. Now a new study uses a large population to look at the link between sleep apnea and cancer. The study reinforces the link between sleep apnea and cancer risk for women. For men, the results are unclear.

Beautiful female sleeping on bed at night while snoring and suffering from sleep apena. Research is one of many studies that suggest a link between sleep apnea and cancer risk.

Population-Based Study

Researchers at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki based their study on the European Sleep Apnea Database (ESADA). This study includes data from more than 19,000 individuals over the age of 18 from 2007 to 2016. The data includes the age, BMI, smoking status, and alcohol consumption for each individual in addition to their sleep apnea status.

Researchers looked at the incidence of cancer in this group, which was about 2% overall–a total of 388 diagnosed cases of cancer for 160 women and 228 men. For women, breast cancer was the most common, while for men prostate cancer was the most common.

When researchers corrected for known risk factors, they found that women had a statistically higher risk of cancer if they had sleep apnea, while men didn’t.

Why the Gender Difference?

Researchers weren’t sure why the data showed a gender difference in cancer risk. However, there are other studies that imply women are more seriously impacted by sleep apnea than men.

In addition, researchers proposed that:

  • Women’s cancers (like breast cancer) might respond more to oxygen shortage
  • Smoking-related risk factors might be gender sensitive

Another possible explanation is that it could relate to underdiagnosis of sleep apnea. Since so many men are likely to have sleep apnea, there could be as many as four men with undiagnosed sleep apnea for each man diagnosed with the condition, which could make it hard to pinpoint risk. Since fewer women have sleep apnea overall, undiagnosed sleep apnea wouldn’t have as much of an impact.

Does Sleep Apnea Cause Cancer?

Of course, another important question is one that this study just doesn’t answer. Does sleep apnea cause cancer? It’s hard to say. But there are reasons for us to suspect that it might.

Cancer consumes disproportionate amounts of the body’s resources. Tumors rely on the growth of new blood vessels, which in turn depends on vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). VEGF levels increase when oxygen levels drop during apnea events. And whether or not sleep apnea actually causes cancer, it definitely makes it harder for cancer victims to survive the condition.

Do You Have Sleep Apnea in Nebraska?

This research is one of many studies that suggest a link between sleep apnea and cancer risk. Cancer is just one of many risks associated with sleep apnea. Sleep apnea treatment not only provides immediate benefits, it can be life-saving in the long term.

If you have sleep apnea and are looking for treatment, the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center in Omaha is the leader in sleep apnea treatment in Nebraska. Please call (402) 493-4175 today for an appointment with a sleep dentist.