Two new studies are claiming that sleep apnea increases the risk of developing various forms of cancer.
Sleep apnea is a disorder that can cause snoring, fatigue and even dangerous breathing pauses in a persons sleep. Sleep apnea affects nearly 28 million Americans and has been on the rise due to the obesity epidemic since the problem is exacerbated by weight gain.
Dr. Joseph Golish, a professor of sleep medicine with the MetroHealth System in Cleveland worked on one of the studies and admits that the study may not link cancer to sleep apnea with the same strong relationship as cardiovascular disease however he added that “until disproven, it would be one more reason to get your apnea treated or to get it diagnosed if you think you might have it.”
A study in Spain followed patients at sleep clinics and found that the most severe forms of sleep apnea led to a 65% increase in the risk of developing cancer. The second study in Wisconsin examined 1,500 government workers and that study showed that breathing abnormalities led to five times the rate of dying from cancer when compared to people without the sleeping disorder.
Researchers ruled out such factors as age, race, smoking habits, alcohol use, physical activity and weight to ensure the study focused only on a persons sleep apnea.
While the two studies above showcase the possibility of sleep apnea and cancer risks in humans, studies in the past have made the same connection in mice. In those studies mice with tumors were placed in low-oxygen environments that simulate the effects of sleep apnea. Mice researchers released that cancer spread more rapidly in sleep apnea induced mcie.
According to the New York Times:
“Scientist speculate that depriving mice of oxygen may cause their bodies to develop more blood vessels to compensate, an effect that could act as a kind of fertilizer for cancer tissue and cause tumors to grow and spread more quickly.”
In the Wisconsin study researchers found that the worse a person’s breathing problems at night were, the more likely they were to die from cancer. The study found that moderate sleep apnea sufferers doubled their chance of cancer death while those in the severe category had a 4.8 times greater chance of cancer death.
The study conducted in Spain found that people who’s oxygen levels dropped below 90 percent for up to 12 percent of the total time they were asleep had a 68 percent greater likelihood of developing some form of cancer.
More research is still needed but given the increase in cancer likelihood it is probably safe to say that sleep apnea sufferers should seek help for their condition as soon as possible.