Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Cancer: A Timeline Perspective
Sleep Apnea Rates Determined In a landmark study, participants were given sleep assessments. Results indicated 1 out of 15 Americans had symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a percentage surprising many in the medical field at the time. The study’s participants, named the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort, are still being studied today. (1, 2)
Oxygen Affects Cancer Growth Researchers found skin cancer tumors developed at a quicker rate when deprived of normal amounts of oxygen. Supporting research indicated oxygen-deprived cancer cells created a substance that stimulated the growth of blood vessels feeding the cancer. Because OSA affects oxygen levels, scientists began considering the potential link between OSA and cancer. (1, 2, 5)
CPAP Therapy + Cancer Rates Intrigued by the potential connection to cancer, scientists retested the original Wisconsin Sleep Cohort. The follow-up showed the correlation between OSA and cancer was stronger in untreated OSA patients. These results suggest CPAP usage may reduce cancer rates because it helps prevent dips in oxygen levels. (1, 2, 4)
OSA + Cancer Rates A large-scale study periodically measured blood oxygen levels in OSA patients over seven years. It found the lower overall oxygenation, the higher the risk of having cancer. Researchers infer that CPAP therapy would reduce cancer rates because it prevents periods of low oxygenation. (1, 2)
(1) “Sleep Apnea Linked to Higher Cancer Death Risk” - Serena Gordon. Philly.com, May 2012 (source).
(2) “Sleep Apnea Tied to Increased Cancer Risk ” - Anahad O’Connor. New York Times, May 2012 (source).
(3) “Rationale, Design, and Findings from the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study” - Terry Young. Sleep Medicine Clinics. 2009 (source).
(4) “Severe Sleep Apnea Tied to Cancer Risk.” - Nathan Seppa. Science News. May 2012 (source).
(5) “Treatment of Hypoxemia in Obstructive Sleep Apnea” - Friedman Landsberg. National Institutes of Health. 2002 (source).