Studies: Sleep Apnea May Boost Cancer Risk

But researchers don't know why

By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff

Posted May 21, 2012 1:47 AM CDT

(Newser) – Sleep apnea afflicts some 28 million Americans, and now two new medical studies are indicating it might do far worse than ruin a night's sleep; it could also increase one's cancer risk, reports the New York Times. Those with severe sleep apnea have a 65% greater chance of developing some form of cancer, according to a study in Spain, while a second study in Wisconsin indicates people with the most breathing problems in their sleep face a risk of dying from cancer fives times the average.

"This is really big news," said a professor of sleep medicine. "It's the first time this has been shown, and it looks like a very solid association." Both studies ruled out other cancer-related risks, such as smoking, drinking, or weight. Scientists caution that much more work needs to be done to understand how sleep apnea and cancer might be related, but research on mice has shown a link between oxygen deprivation and the faster progress of cancer. "That is really striking," said one of the Wisconsin study's authors. "It could be something else, but it’s hard to imagine that something we didn’t control for is causing this."

Graphic shows the anatomy and physiology causing sleep apnea.
Graphic shows the anatomy and physiology causing sleep apnea.   (Associated Press)
Sleep apnea not only interferes with the sleep of 28 million Americans; now researchers think it might be a major cancer risk.
Sleep apnea not only interferes with the sleep of 28 million Americans; now researchers think it might be a major cancer risk.   (Shutterstock)
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