We know that men are more at risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea. But for women who suffer from OSA the 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 a large 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.

How Sleep Apnea Influences Cancer

The 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.

Sleep apnea leads to neurochemical imbalances. When poor sleep is the result of any untreated sleep disorder, the neurochemical balance that a whole-body process like sleep requires is disrupted.

 Two of the key hormones that fall out of balance—cortisol and melatonin—are critical for maintaining a healthy immune system (cortisol) and for regulating the body’s circadian system (melatonin). In addition, this neurochemical balance can lead to body-wide (systemic) inflammation.

 

How does this relate to cancer?

  • Without a healthy immune system, the body can struggle to fight off the aggressive cellular behaviors that can lead to tumors.
  • With an imbalance in circadian rhythms as the result of decreased melatonin, the body produces higher amounts of other substances that are risk factors for cancer (for women, higher estrogen can lead to breast cancer, and for men, higher estrogen can lead to prostate, bowel, lung, and bladder cancer).
  • Systemic inflammation causes oxidative stress to the organs. Oxidation is a breakdown of tissues that is the consequence of long-term inflammation; oxidative stress refers to the damage that results from unchecked systemic inflammation, which makes it easier for cancer—an opportunistic disease—to establish itself wherever the body is most vulnerable.

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. 

Conclusion

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. 

                  MALLAMPATI EXAM

 

 More case studies

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.

  

Researchers have also suggested a correlation between sleep apnea and increased cancer risk of any kind.   Risk of some cancers may increase. One Cancer study of 1,240 participants who underwent colonoscopies found that those who slept fewer than six hours a night had a 50 percent spike in risk of colorectal adenomas, which can turn malignant over time.
 
Sources: 

American Sleep Apnea Association
Centers for Disease Control
Mayo Clinic
National Institutes of Health
National Sleep Foundation
The New York Times
Wisconsin Cohort Study
World Health Organization