Sleep Apnea Takes the Breath Away

Cancer mortality increased among those with sleep apnea

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Sleep apnea interrupts the sleeper's normal breathing pattern. This can contribute to serious health conditions. For cancer patients, sleep disordered breathing (SDB) can be fatal

A new study finds that severe sleep apnea can shorten the life of someone who has had cancer.

"Get treated for sleep apnea."

University of Wisconsin researchers have learned that cancer patients with serious sleep apnea have a much higher - five times - incidence of cancer-related death that those who don't have SDB.

"As oncologists we know that cancer patients' pre-existing health conditions and functional abilities significantly affect their treatment outcomes," Houston-based oncologist, Atisha Manhas, MD, told dailyRx.  

Earlier research has linked SDB with greater risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, depression and even early death. This, however, is the first human study showing a relationship between the condition and higher cancer mortality rates.

Lead author F. Javier Nieto, MPH, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Population Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, says animal studies have demonstrated that SDB actually promotes cancer growth.

For the study, researchers examined 22 years' worth of mortality data for 1,522 participants from the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort.

This research, which has been under way since 1989, involves overnight sleep studies that record sleep and breathing patterns. Participants also have a variety of other tests every four years.

Dr. Nieto's team found that after adjusting for age, sex, BMI (body mass index) and smoking, sleep apnea was linked to all causes of death, including cancer-related deaths.

People with a history of cancer and severe SBD died of cancer at a rate 4.8 higher than those who didn't have sleep problems.

Dr. Nieto says additional studies are needed to validate these results.

He adds, "If the relationship between SDB and cancer mortality is validated in further studies, the diagnosis and treatment of SDB in patients with cancer might be indicated to prolong survival.”

Findings from this research were presented May 20, 2012 at the American Thoracic Society 2012 International Conference in San Francisco and the study will be published in American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

No funding information or financial disclosures were made available.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 23, 2012
Last Updated:
August 2, 2012