Sleep Apnea, Cancer Not Linked in Recent Study

Low blood oxygen associated with sleep apnea did not increase cancer cases

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Dominique Brooks, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Previous research has suggested that low levels of blood oxygen associated with sleep apnea could prompt cancer development. But new research suggests that may not be the case.

A group of Canadian researchers recently found no apparent link between sleep apnea and cancer.

"Speak to a sleep specialist if you have trouble breathing at night."

The study was written by Tetyana Kendzerska, MD, PhD, of the University of Toronto’s Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, and colleagues.

The study authors set out to test for a link between sleep apnea and cancer.

Sleep apnea occurs when an individual stops breathing for short periods of time while asleep. Risk factors for developing sleep apnea including being overweight or diabetic and having chronic nasal congestion. A common treatment is sleeping with a mask that pumps oxygen into the nose.

The idea being tested was that sleep apnea lowered oxygen levels in the blood, which could increase the risk of cancer development.

Dr. Kendzerska and team studied 10,149 sleep apnea patients who went through a sleep study between 1994 and 2010. They compared that group to information from health databases for overlaps with cancer diagnosis.

At the beginning of the study, 520 of the 10,149 (5.1 percent) patients had been diagnosed with cancer. After a median follow-up of 7.8 years, 627 of the study group that had been free of cancer at the beginning of the study (6.5 percent) had been diagnosed with cancer.

The most common types of cancers the researchers found were prostate, breast, colorectal and lung.

Dr. Kendzerska and colleagues found no clear link between sleep apnea and cancer.

“We were not able to confirm previous hypotheses that obstructive sleep apnea is a cause of overall cancer development,” the study authors wrote.

The researchers recommended a larger-scale study with long-term follow-up to further analyze the topic.

The peer-reviewed study was published online Aug. 5 by the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The ResMed Foundation and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences at the University of Toronto provided funding. The authors did not disclose any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 5, 2014
Last Updated:
August 6, 2014