Over the years, sleep apnea has been linked to a lengthy list of health problems including heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Recently, however, new research has shown that sleep apnea is also associated with cancer. It marks the first time that sleep apnea has been linked to cancer in humans.
One study, completed in Spain, found that patients suffering from sleep apnea have a greater likelihood of developing cancer in the first place. Those with severe sleep apnea were at a 65 percent greater risk of developing cancer of any kind.
A second study by the University of Wisconsin found that cancer patients who also have sleep apnea were more likely to die from the cancer. Dr. F. Javier Nieto, lead author of the study and chair of the Department of Population Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health explained: “The study showed a nearly five times higher incidence of cancer deaths in patients with severe sleep-disordered breathing compared to those without the disorder.”
Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by short but frequent breathing pauses during sleep. As oxygen levels drop, those with the disorder often wake-up gasping for breath. While the findings of these studies are not completly understood, the researchers believe that the the decrease in oxygen levels may advance the growth of tumours.
These findings underscore the seriousness of sleep apnea and the necessity of getting screened for it. If you have any of the common symptoms, such as snoring or daytime sleepiness, talk to your family physician about getting a referral to a sleep clinic. Excellent treatments are available that can quickly alleviate the symptoms of sleep apnea and improve your overall health.