Sleep Apnea and Cancer

Two Independent Studies Show a Connection
Between Sleep Apnea and Cancer

Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening condition that has been associated through the years with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke and obesity. Now, cancer may be added to the list of health dangers, based on two independent studies released in May 2012.

The independent studies conducted by researchers from University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and Spanish Sleep Network represent the first time cancer diagnosis and death have been connected to sleep apnea. The condition impacts the health of millions of people worldwide.

Sleep apnea occurs when the airway collapses during sleep, blocking oxygen flow to the body. As a result, people momentarily awaken through the night, choking and gasping for air, often unaware that they have the condition. Those with severe cases can wake up more than a hundred times each night. Sleep apnea suffers often do not realize sleep is interrupted because the episodes happen quickly — and then they fall back asleep.

The overt symptoms are loud snoring and choking sounds during sleep, along with persistent fatigue during day that results from constant sleep interruption. Only a healthcare provider can diagnose and treat the condition.

RESEARCH FINDINGS: The Sleep Apnea and Cancer Link

University of Wisconsin Study: The health of approximately 1,500 state workers was monitored and documented by the university’s research team. The individuals studied represented a cross-section of the general population and were part of a voluntary Wisconsin Sleep Cohort. They underwent comprehensive sleep studies and health exams every four years.

Data revealed that people with severe sleep apnea had nearly five times the rate of death from cancer than those who experienced no nighttime breathing issues. Yet, severe sleep apnea suffers were not the only individuals with nighttime breathing issues that were at greater risk. The study showed that people with moderate sleep apnea experienced twice the number of deaths from cancer. 

Spanish Sleep Network Study: Rather than measure based on cancer deaths, as in the University of Wisconsin study, researchers in Spain analyzed the incidence of cancer in 5,200 people they followed for seven years. None of these people had cancer at the start of the study.

For each study participant, the researchers evaluated the amount of time oxygen levels in the blood fell below 90 percent during sleep. They found that people with greater oxygen depletion at night had an increased risk of getting some form of cancer. When oxygen levels drop below 90 percent for up to 12 percent of total sleep time, people experience a 68 percent greater likelihood of developing cancer.

While there is agreement that more study is needed into the connection between sleep apnea and cancer, researchers suggest that appropriate sleep apnea treatment can help minimize cancer risk and the occurrence of other dangerous health conditions.


The overt symptoms of sleep apnea are loud snoring and choking sounds during sleep, along with persistent fatigue during day that results from constant sleep interruption. As stated earlier, only a doctor can properly diagnose the disorder and determine the best course of action to alleviate associated health concerns.

Typically a sleep study or poysomnography is completed before diagnosis is confirmed and a treatment program prescribed. Sleep apnea treatment varies by individuals and may include one or more of the following:

  • Using a mouthguard during sleep
  • Breathing therapy using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask and machine during sleep
  • Lifestyle changes that may include a change in diet and exercise
  • Corrective surgery

Click here for more information: Sleep Apnea Treatment

Related Information - Sleep Apnea and Cancer

Sleep Apnea: The Condition
More About Sleep Apnea
Treatment for Sleep Apnea
Sleep Apnea Test

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