Sleep Apnea

Researchers Debunk Popular Theory That Sleep Apnea Causes Cancer

A new study fails to show that sleep apnea causes cancer, potentially disproving one cause of the deadly disease.

It seems like there are so many causes to cancer that it might be more efficient to list off things that don’t cause the big C. Scientists have recently done just that and potentially crossed sleep apnea off the hazard list.

Sleep apnea is a condition where patients suffer from bouts of shallow or halting breathing during sleep. Researchers theorized that the breathing problems would lead to slight oxygen deprivation that would make someone more susceptible to cancer.

Past studies have backed up this theory showing a link between sleep apnea and cancer, but those studies included few participants and may have had bias in the outcomes.

Now a more authoritative study has thrown shade onto the theorized link.

The report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, looked at 10,149 sleep apnea patients, following each one for an average of 7.6 years. At the beginning of the study 5.1% of the patients were diagnosed with cancer. 6.5% of patients who were cancer-free in the beginning had developed some form of cancer in their follow-up exams. Nevertheless, when accounting for other potential cancer risks, the team was unable to determine a link between the patients’ sleep apnea and the development of cancer.

According to Dr. Tetyana Kendzerska, lead author for the report:

“We were not able to confirm previous hypotheses that obstructive sleep apnea is a cause of overall cancer development through intermittent lack of oxygen.”

There were other discrepancies between this study and past work on sleep apnea. Past studies had patients who were older, had bigger BMI numbers and more obstructive sleep apnea than the Dr. Kenzerska’s study.

The research team also admits that for there was some missing information for the stage of certain patients’ cancer condition and how they managed their condition.

Nevertheless, Dr. Kenzerska was not surprised by the results saying:

“The longitudinal evidence on this relationship is very limited, and one of four studies published before ours also reported a lack of association. The mechanism of an association is unclear, and only chronic intermittent hypoxemia was postulated as a potential link. As such, we were not surprised at the lack of association.”

Further studies might bring sleep apnea back onto the list as a potential cause of cancer. Until then, people with sleep apnea can sleep a tiny bit easier, but just a tiny bit.

[Image Credit: Getty]