Sleep Apnea May Increase Risk of Cancer, Studies Suggest

Over 28 million Americans are suffering from undiagnosed and untreated sleep apnea, experiencing symptoms ranging from daily fatigue and daytime drowsiness to more severe health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Now, according to several recent studies conducted in Spain and the US, sleep apnea may increase the risk of developing different types of cancer; a discovery that may assist in cancer treatment in the near future.

Conducted by a team at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, 1,500 government workers have been examined since 1989 during the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort, originally set to determine the existence of sleep apnea. Through the extensive sleep studies taken every four years, researchers have determined not only that sleep apnea is widespread, but also that more severe breathing issues during the night create a higher risk for those with sleep apnea to die from some type of cancer. It had been found that people with moderate sleep apnea had died from cancer at double the rate of those without breathing issues, and those with more severe apnea had died at a rate of 4.8 times that of a person without sleep apnea.

Lack of Oxygen at Night Might Be to Blame

During the second sleep apnea study, researchers from the Spanish Sleep Network followed about 5,200 people with a positive diagnosis of sleep apnea for seven years, testing the amount of time that oxygen saturation in the blood falls below 90 percent during the night using a measure called the hypoxemia index. It had been found that those who experienced the most oxygen depletion throughout their nights were at a higher risk of receiving a cancer diagnosis during the study. For example, those who experienced an oxygen level under 90 percent in the bloodstream 12 percent of the night were 68 percent more likely to later suffer from cancer of any kind.

In a separate study, mice with tumors were tested based on the theory that a lack of oxygen may cause a higher risk of cancer. Researchers placed these mice in a low-oxygen environment to simulate sleep apnea effects, finding that the cancers had increased more rapidly than those in a more stabilized environment. Some believe the possible development of extra blood vessels to compensate for the lack of oxygen might cultivate cancer to spread more quickly, but there have been no studies to determine the true cause.

Though there is still much to discover in the possible link between sleep apnea and cancer; it is important for those who are suffering from sleep apnea to seek treatment as soon as possible to prevent any possible health risks from developing. To learn more about sleep apnea treatment options, call or email Dr. Roubal at his dental office today to schedule a consultation.