Obstructive Sleep Apnea linked to Cancer

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a common disorder that causes snoring, fatigue, daytime tiredness and dangerous pauses in breathing at night, has been linked to cancer. About 28 million Americans have moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea; and about 90 percent of these people are not even aware that they have it.

The “Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study” results were published on May 20, 2012, by the American Thoracic Society. In sleep disordered breathing, there are many times during sleep that the upper airway is partially or completely blocked. More than 1,500 patients were studied over a 22-year period and the results showed that people with severe obstructive sleep apnea died of cancer nearly five times more often than the normal population. The study also showed that people who have their blood oxygen levels reduced greater that 10 percent for more than 45 minutes out of seven hours of sleep time died of cancer almost nine times more often than the normal population.

Researchers ruled out the possibility that common risk factors for cancer (age, smoking, alcohol use, physical activity, weight) could have played a role. The link between cancer and OSA remained even after the adjustment for these and other variables. Symptoms that indicate there is a need to be tested for obstructive sleep apnea may include:

  • Snoring
  • Witnessed breathing pauses at night
  • Daytime tiredness
  • Unrefreshed feeling after sleep
  • Morning headaches
  • Acid reflux
  • High blood pressure
  • Gasping when awakening
  • Depression

Testing to find out if you have OSA can be done either in a sleep lab or in your own home. If you are diagnosed with OSA, treatment may include CPAP (continuous positive air pressure), custom made oral device (by a qualified dentist), lifestyle change including weight loss and sleep position, and surgery. Untreated OSA takes an average of eight years off of your life.

This information is from an article published by the American Thoracic Society, May 20, 2012, entitled “Sleep disordered breathing and cancer mortality: results from the Wisconsin Cohort Study” by F. Javier Nieto, Paul E. Peppard, Terry Young, Laurel Finn, Khin Mae Hla.