Can sleep apnea increase your risk of getting cancer? According to a new study published in the European Respiratory Journal, women with severe cases of sleep apnea may have an increased risk of developing cancer. But, the connection is not totally clear.

One theory is that increased levels of nocturnal hypoxia — or time without oxygen during sleep — could be behind the higher levels of cancer.

The Study

The study reviewed data collected from more than 20,000 adult patients diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a form of sleep breathing disorder that causes breathing to stop during sleep. With obstructive sleep apnea, the breathing obstruction is usually caused by the tongue falling back to block the airway, or the muscles of the throat collapsing.

Individuals who are affected by sleep apnea experience effects such as:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Weight gain
  • Changes in mood
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Changes in libido
  • Head pain and migraines
  • High blood pressure
  • Frequent nighttime urination

Of the patients who were analyzed, around 2 percent had been diagnosed with cancer.

Additional factors for cancer were taken into consideration, including age, body mass index (BMI) and behavioral habits like smoking and alcohol consumption.

The hormonal fluctuations of women may also be a contributor to developing both sleep apnea and cancer, according to other studies. One theory behind the link is that the combination of female sex hormones and stress hormone activation on the body caused by sleep apnea trigger cancer development.

The risk of developing cancer in women living with sleep apnea was two to three times higher than in women and men who did not have a sleep disorder.

Earlier studies have explored the connection between sleep apnea and one specific type of cancer, malignant melanoma.

This is the first time a study has been conducted to explore how gender, cancer and sleep apnea connect.

Living with sleep apnea or suspect you are? Call Dr. Ron Konig in Houston at 713-668-2289 today to discuss your symptoms and treatment options.

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