Sleep Apnea Connection with Cancer Grows Stronger

Those suffering from sleep apnea are familiar with feelings of daytime sleepiness, and their ‘significant others’ often endure the sounds of night time snoring and gasping for breath. There’s a research about sleep apnea connection with many disease. More important than these annoyances, the effects of sleep apnea include higher risk of depression, cardiovascular disease including stroke, impaired memory due to poor sleep and several other significant conditions.

Sleep Apnea Connection with Cancer

The underlying culprit in all these cases is the low level of oxygen in the blood and throughout the body that occurs with sleep apnea. The year 2012 has seen multiple reports linking sleep apnea with increased risk of cancer. A study to the sleep apnea connection effect in the first half of the year has been followed by others at a recent meeting of respiratory doctors, the European Respiratory Society, inVienna,Austria. Multiple groups have now documented these increased risks for various cancers.

One set of results showed that sleep apnea sufferers spending just 15% or more of their sleep with oxygen saturation levels below 90% had almost double the risk of death due to cancer than people without sleep apnea. Another one tested mice intermittently exposed to lower-oxygen air, to simulate what happens in sleep apnea patients. All the mice had melanoma, the deadly skin cancer, but those exposed to poor-oxygen air developed more severe disease with higher levels of cancer spreading (metastases). Why might this be?

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It is because cancer represents runaway cell growth, tumors tend to have an area in their middle that is naturally low in oxygen. The sleep apnea connection  with cancer grows because the cells around it are preferentially getting to it first from nearby blood capillaries. The tumor’s response to this is to release compounds signaling to the blood capillaries that they need to grow, a process called angiogenesis. Supplying tumors with these new vessels further promotes their growth and creates a vicious cycle. Doctors speculate that the low levels of oxygen in the blood, present for much of every night in sleep apnea sufferers, acts to further stimulate the angiogenesis process. This may be either within small, pre-existing tumors or perhaps throughout the body, yet with a tumor taking further advantage of this state.

By far the most common form of sleep apnea is the obstructive type (OSA). In this case the soft tissues at the back of the mouth and throat (pharynx) relax too much and collapse while a person draws breath in their sleep. Risk factors for OSA itself are being overweight, drinking alcohol in the evening (relaxes the throat even more) and smoking, for multiple reasons. Less commonly, a person may have so-called “central sleep apnea” in which the body’s natural instincts to breath as needed are somehow inhibited. Either way, the situation is not one to ignore.

If you think you have sleep apnea, due to what seems like excessive daytime sleepiness or complaints of your snoring, don’t keep it “under your hat” – see a doctor and get it checked out! Though it’s hard to believe something one is usually barely even aware of can be such a danger to one’s health, too many studies have now confirmed the connection for it to be ignored. There are treatments available that are covered by insurance, including the continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP) as well as other approaches. By using one of these, the sleep apnea sufferer will not only experience better daytime alertness and enhanced performance, they will actually be lowering their risk of getting cancer and a variety of other serious conditions. Talk about a win-win situation!


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