Studies show that people suffering from sleep-disordered breathing have an increased risk of developing cancer and are up to five times more likely to die from the disease.   Once again the culprit is HYPOXIA. The lack of oxygen (hypoxia) caused by untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) can be a catalyst for a process called neovascularization (the creation of new blood vessels), giving a blood supply that can encourage tumor growth.  Snoring may be a warning that you may have OSA.

Cancer cells thrive in a low oxygen environment. Hospitals will put a patient on oxygen if their O2 levels drop below 92. Untreated OSA can cause oxygen levels to drop anywhere from the 90’s, 80’s and even in the 50’s.

Sleep apnea causes sustained low blood oxygen.

One of the biggest problems with sleep apnea is the way in which it deprives the body of necessary oxygen. Frequent apneas (pauses in breathing that last at least 10 seconds, but often last much longer) lead to nocturnal intermittent hypoxia.

Dentists perform exams of  patient’s mouth, neck, and airway on a regular basis while screening for oral cancer. These health screenings are important, lifesaving moments in a patient’s health journey– we can do that with a similarly deadly condition like untreated sleep apnea.

Detecting OSA and leading the way for treatment can add YEARS to a  patient’s lifespan while significantly improving quality of life. Both cancer and OSA have symptoms that can be easily recognized in the chair during a regular checkup. While checking the mouth for masses and swelling, you can also check on the Mallampati score  and be alert to possible concerns you may have.



Symptoms of both oral cancer and sleep apnea should be screened for everyone, especially for heavy drinkers and tobacco users. The irritation from cigarettes and other forms of tobacco may cause inflammation that’s disruptive to the airway. Smoking, of course, is known for its carcinogenic properties, but perhaps more surprising is that around 70% people diagnosed with oral cancer turn out to be heavy drinkers. Alcohol use is also known to cause apneic events by relaxing muscles in the airway (this is particularly dangerous when people use alcohol to help get to sleep due to an already existing issue with sleep apnea).


We know that men are more at risk of developing sleep apnea. But if you happen to be a woman and you suffer from OSA your risk of developing cancer is more than your male counterparts, says a recent research published in the European Respiratory Journal. During the study the scientists collected data of 20,000 patients with OSA. It was found that around 2 per cent of these patients were later diagnosed with cancer.

Researchers analysed data based on age, gender, alcohol consumption, body mass index and smoking. Again, there was a strong association between sleep apnea and higher cancer prevalence. Additionally, the link was stronger in women than men.

A 2012 study identified a link between sleep and aggressive breast cancers. Ref: American Cancer Society


In 2013, Spanish researchers reported that people with severe sleep apnea had a 65 percent increased risk for cancer. They suggested the risk is associated with increased hypoxia, a condition where the body is deprived of oxygen.

Another study from the University of Wisconsin found people with sleep-disordered breathing are five times more likely to die from cancer than people without sleep apnea. Researchers from the American study admit the study is limited in that there are no studies to compare it with that look at cancer survival in people with sleep apnea.

One recent study reported in the Journal of Sleep Medicine shows moderate and severe cases of sleep apnea are associated with increased cancer risk. That study also showed an increased risk for all “all-cause mortality” and cancer mortality due to cancer. The 20-year study showed that people with moderate to severe cases of sleep apnea are two and a half times more likely to develop cancer and three times more likely to die from cancer. The authors noted these findings confirmed previous research conducted by American and Spanish researchers.

Animal studies have also confirmed previous findings. One 2014 study  reported in the journal Cancer Research linked sleep apnea with aggressive cancer growth in mouse models. Mice with tumors were placed in low oxygen environments that mimic the effects of sleep apnea and tumor growth in the mice progressed rapidly.


With a convincing condemnation of Sleep Apnea as a cause of cancer we need to be more serious about screening patients for cancer and OSA.

 If you have any concern about your risk, ask us about it.  We’re here to help.