Sleep Patterns and Cancer: New Evidence

woman sleeping

I recently enjoyed a short essay by Cary Peasant, and want to share it with you.

Sleep disorders are common in both men and women. The body needs adequate sleep. Recent evidence shows the value of sleep to the body is to clean out waste molecules in the brain, allowing us to function better. This observation was even listed in Science as one of the most important scientific observations of 2013.

I found recent basic science and referenced clinical studies very important. Hakim and coworkers (Cancer Research 2014, volume 74, page 1329) studied mice which had experimental tumors TC-1 or 3LLC. If the mice were subjected to sleep disruption (using a mechanical sweeper during daylight hours to fragment the sleep patterns of the mice), the cancers grew faster and became larger. Also, these tumors in sleep deprived mice were more invasive into normal muscle and subcutaneous tissues of the mice. The reason for the accelerated cancer growth and invasiveness was increased tumor macrophages. The authors identified the TLR4, MYD88 and TRIG pathways to be controlling the macrophages, which may prompt new cancer treatments if pathway modulating drugs can be developed.

But are sleep disorders associated with cancers in people? Yes , and more than you might think. Short sleep duration increased the incidence of breast cancer (S. Pinheiro, Cancer Res 2006; 66: 5521). Since colon polyps are more frequent in patients with sleep disorders (C. Thompson, Cancer 2011; 117: 841), it is not surprising that colon cancer is also more frequent (L Jiao and coworkers, Br J Cancer 2013; 108: 213). Even liver cancer is increased in sleep deprived J. Liang, Sleep Med 2012; 13; 869).

I suggest that this basic and clinical data should prompt us to review sleep patterns in our patients and if they are deficient, to refer those patients to sleep specialists for evaluation and treatment. This should be associated with reduction of fatigue and sleepiness, as well as possible improving tumor control.

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.


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Harvard AB Yale MD UPenn Radiation Oncology Radiation Oncologist, Seattle area

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