Sleep apnea increases cancer risk

Thursday, November 18, 2021

A person who snores heavily, sweats a lot while sleeping, and is often tired during the day should suspect ‘sleep apnea’. Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing stops temporarily due to blockage of the airways during sleep. It is known to cause various symptoms such as stroke, diabetes, and gastroesophageal reflux disease by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system in the body. In particular, it has been confirmed that it can increase the risk of cancer, so special attention is required.

A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that sleep apnea promotes the growth of cancer cells and increases the mortality rate of cancer patients. This is the result of a 20-year follow-up study from 1990 to 397 people by a research team from the University of Sydney School of Nursing in Australia. Among the study subjects, 98 patients had sleep apnea, and 18 patients had severe sleep apnea (the number of pauses for more than 10 seconds per hour was 15 or more). During the study period, 125 people developed cancer and 39 died. Cancer patients with severe sleep apnea have a mortality rate more than three times higher than those with cancer patients without symptoms.

A 2019 study found that sleep apnea may directly increase cancer risk. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine in the United States found that the risk of cancer death increased from 10% to up to 5 times, depending on the severity of sleep apnea, after a 22-year study of 1,500 people who participated in the Wisconsin Sleep Group Study. According to the frequency of sleep apnea, the cancer death risk was 10% for 5 to 14.9 episodes per hour, 2 times for 15 to 29.9 episodes per hour, and 4.8 times for 30 or more episodes per hour. Dr Javier Nieto, who participated in the study, said: “When a cancer patient lacks oxygen due to sleep apnea, cancer cells create more new blood vessels to replenish oxygen. Eventually, if new blood vessels continue to be created, it promotes the spread of cancer cells.”

Sleep apnea is often a structural problem. Since sleep apnea does not improve if left untreated, prompt treatment is important if sleep apnea is suspected. In order to treat sleep apnea, it is necessary to accurately identify the cause and begin treatment through polysomnography. The best treatment is positive pressure therapy. A positive pressure device is a device worn while sleeping, and because it artificially supplies air while sleeping, the reduced oxygen concentration is restored to normal.

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