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Is There a Link Between Sleep Disorders and Cancer?

Posted On December 18, 2013
December 18, 2013

The Big C. The word that you never want to hear as a diagnosis for you or a loved one. CANCER! Scarier still is the mounting evidence linking sleeping disorders and cancer, specifically obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is already known to increase the risk for high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. Sleep apnea is classified as a sleep disorder that causes individuals to stop breathing multiple times during each hour of sleep throughout any given night. If left untreated, a person’s risk for serious health issues significantly increases.

Currently, it is estimated that close to 80% of people with sleep apnea do not even know they have the condition. Traditional treatment for OSA has been continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment whereby patients wear a mask over their nose while sleeping to treat their disease. The primary function of the CPAP device is to prevent the airway restriction that can prompt episodes of sleep apnea.

Studies of Sleep Disorders Say…

Recent studies have investigated whether or not a diagnosis of sleep apnea increased the presence and spread of cancer. Here’s what they discovered. Researchers in Spain evaluated close to 6,000 patients across the country to confirm or refute a link between sleep apnea and cancer death. The group used the apnea hypopnea index (AHI) to determine the severity of sleep apnea based on the total number of episodes during the night where breathing stopped due to complete or partial obstruction of the sufferer’s airway. Their results demonstrated that people with severe sleep apnea had doubled their relative risk for cancer death with an odds ratio of 1.94 versus the control group who did not have sleep apnea. In addition, they discovered that the connection was even stronger in men and a younger-skewed population, and the ratio increased to 2.56 if the sleep apnea sufferer was non-compliant with CPAP treatment.

However, according to Dr. Miguel Angel Martinez-Garcia from La Fe University Hospital in Valencia, Spain, it is important to understand that sleep apnea does not cause cancer. He added, “Our research has only found an association between these disorders.”

In a second study conducted in Spain, researchers were able to demonstrate an increase in all types of cancer incidence in people with severe sleep apnea. Even factoring in such variables as sex, age, and weight of study subjects, the connection between sleep apnea and cancer was still present and undeniable.

The results discovered in Europe were corroborated in the United States in a study conducted at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Researchers discovered that study participants had a five times higher incidence of death from cancer when they also were diagnosed with severe sleep apnea.

These studies verified what had been previously discovered in research conducted on animal subjects, i.e. the link between sleep apnea and cancer. Animal research concluded that improper breathing over long periods of time failed to properly oxygenate cells and thus contributed to the growth and spread of cancer. Nevertheless, as the University of Wisconsin’s lead researcher Dr. F. Javier Nieto stated there is a strong correlation between sleep apnea and cancer. He encouraged continued research and added, “We are a long way from proving that sleep apnea causes cancer.”

If you or a loved one has cancer and are wondering whether or not you also have a sleeping disorder or sleep apnea, we are here to help. Please contact one of our medical concierges today at  to schedule a free consultation.


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