Sleep Apnea Linked to Cancer and Stroke Risk

CPAP sleep apnea

What You Need to Know: Moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea isassociated with an increased risk of stroke, cancer and death.

Background: Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. This means the brain — and the rest of the body — may not get enough oxygen.  There are two types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): The more common of the two forms of apnea, it is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.
  • Central sleep apnea: Unlike OSA, the airway is not blocked, but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe due to instability in the respiratory control center.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports that obstructive sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that affects up to seven percent of men and five percent of women. It involves repetitive episodes of complete or partial upper airway obstruction occurring during sleep despite an ongoing effort to breathe. The most effective treatment option for OSA is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which helps to keep the airway open by providing a stream of air through a mask that is worn during sleep.

 The Study: The study involved 397 adults who are participating in the ongoing Busselton Health Study. Objective sleep data were gathered in 1990 using a portable home sleep testing device. Participants with a history of stroke or cancer were excluded from selected analyses.

The Evidence: Results of a 20-year follow-up study show that people with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea are

  • four times more likely to die (hazard ratio = 4.2), nearly four times more likely to have a stroke (HR = 3.7),
  • three times more likely to die from cancer (HR = 3.4), and
  • 2.5 times more likely to develop cancer.

Results were adjusted for potential confounding factors such as body mass index, smoking status, total cholesterol and blood pressure.

My Take: If you think you may have sleep apnea, get evaluated. You may need medical intervention. Are you at risk for having sleep apnea? Sleep apnea can affect anyone at any age, even children. Risk factors for sleep apnea include:

  • Being male
  • Being overweight
  • Being over age 40
  • Having a large neck size (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women)
  • Having large tonsils, a large tongue, or a small jaw bone
  • Having a family history of sleep apnea
  • Gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD
  • Nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum, allergies, or sinus problems

 I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad: Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

 References: Nathaniel S. Marshall, Keith K.H. Wong, Stewart R.J. Cullen, Matthew W. Knuiman, Ronald R. Grunstein. Sleep Apnea and 20-Year Follow-Up for All-Cause Mortality, Stroke, and Cancer Incidence and Mortality in the Busselton Health Study Cohort. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 2014; DOI: 10.5664/jcsm.3600; http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-apnea/sleep-apnea

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