Snoring & Cancer Risk
- A new study presented this week shows a link between sleep apnea and increased cancer risk.
- Snoring and waking up with dry mouth can be indicators that you have sleep apnea.
- Sleep apnea is typically treated with lifestyle changes like weight loss and also the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
The large study, which was presented Monday at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress, shows that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is linked to an increased risk of cancer, as well as a decline in mental processing powers and an elevated risk of blood clots.Read More
The study looked at data from nearly 63,000 patients who were treated for sleep apnea in Sweden.
“The findings in this study highlight the need to consider untreated sleep apnoea as a risk factor for cancer and for doctors to be aware of the possibility of cancer,” says Dr. Palm.
The data from these patients were then linked with the Swedish National Cancer Registry to find correlations.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder during which breathing stops and starts multiple times. The American Medical Association says nearly 30 million people in the U.S. have sleep apnea. However, only 6 million people are diagnosed with sleep apnea.
Snoring is usually associated with sleep apnea. So if you snore at night, you may want to speak with your doctor to determine whether or not you have sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is typically treated with lifestyle changes like weight loss and also the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the main types of sleep apnea include:
- Obstructive sleep apnea, the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax
- Central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, which occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea
Sleep Apnea & Cancer
Sleep apnea can cause myriad problems apart from just tiredness from interrupted sleep. It can also lead to heart problems and – as the recent study shows – it can cause elevated cancer risk.
In an earlier interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Amanda Phipps, an epidemiologist and researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, spoke to the links between sleep apnea and cancer.
“This is a cross-sectional analysis,” she explained of a 2019 study showing a similar correlation between apnea and cancer. “So it shows just one snapshot of each participant. So it’s really hard to work out what’s the chicken and what’s the egg, whether the apnea or the cancer came first.”
“Not all cancers are created equally,” Dr. Phipps adds. “The association between [sleep apnea] and cancer may well be different depending on the type of cancer.”
Symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring
- Periods during which you stop breathing during your sleep
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Waking up with a dry mouth
- Waking up with a headache
- Problems with staying asleep
- Excessive sleepiness during the day
- Trouble paying attention during the day
A researcher who presented the sleep apnea study, Dr. Andreas Palm, tells Eureka News, “It is known already that patients with obstructive sleep apnoea have an increased risk of cancer, but it has not been clear whether or not this is due to the OSA itself or to related risk factors for cancer, such as obesity, cardiometabolic disease and lifestyle factors.
Dr. Palm continues, “Our findings show that oxygen deprivation due to OSA is independently associated with cancer.”
Dr. Palm says, “We found that patients with cancer had slightly more severe [sleep apnea].” Patients that Dr. Palm and his team looked at included people diagnosed with lung cancer, prostate cancer, and melanoma. “The findings in this study highlight the need to consider untreated sleep apnoea as a risk factor for cancer and for doctors to be aware of the possibility of cancer,” says Dr. Palm.
An earlier study pointed to the same correlation. In 2019, a study of more than 19,000 people from the European Sleep Apnea Database (ESADA) suggested that women with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than men with the condition.
Researchers looked at data from 19,556 people included in the database, an international, multicenter study, and found that among the ESDA participants, 388 people (2 percent) had been diagnosed with a serious cancer. this included 160 women and 228 men, which is 2 percent of all women and 1.7 percent of all men in the ESADA group.
The study did not look at a specific kind of cancer.
Getting Adequate Sleep – With or Without Apnea
Getting adequate sleep while being treated for sleep apnea is important. It’s recommended that the average adult sleep around 7-8 hours per night. If you’re diagnosed with sleep apnea, you want to be extra-vigilant about getting proper rest. Not only will it make you happier during the day time and allow you to feel better, but it could lower your cancer risk, too.
Practice good sleep hygiene by using your bedroom just for sleep and for intimacy. Try to avoid watching television before bed, scrolling on your phone, or other activities that can negatively impact your sleep quality.
Contributing: SurvivorNet staff