There is No Link Between Sleep Apnea and Elevated Cancer Risk

First Posted: Aug 06, 2014 11:17 AM EDT

Sleep apnea has been linked to a host of other health issues. Research shows that it may increase the risk of stroke and cognitive impairment, among other medical concerns. Yet a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows that despite previous findings, there is no link between sleep apnea and cancer.

Previous studies have suggested that the sleep disorder, characterized by interrupted breathing throughout sleep cycles, may increase the risk of cancer as it lowers oxygen levels in the blood stream.

"There is a need for a sufficiently large cohort study with a long enough follow-up to allow for the potential development of cancer that adjusts for important potential confounders, examines common cancer subtypes and has a rigorous assessment of both obstructive sleep apnea and cancer," said lead study author Dr. Tetyana Kendzerska, Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and Women's College Hospital, University of Toronto, in a news release. 

For the study, researchers analyzed 10,419 patients diagnosed with sleep apnea who also underwent a sleep study between 1994 and 2010. About 5.1 percent of the participants were diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of the study. However, 6.5 percent of people who did not have cancer at the start developed tumors during the follow-up period.

The most common cancers seen in participants were breast, colorectal, lung and prostate tumors. However, researchers noted that the findings did not reveal a causal link between obstructive sleep apnea and cancer after accounting for certain risk factors.

"Additional studies are needed to find out whether there is an independent effect of sleep apnea on specific types of cancer," Kendzerska concluded, via Health Day

However, she also stressed the importance of treating this health issue promptly in order to avoid any other related health issues.

"One should not ignore sleep apnea," Krespi said. "Sleep apnea is a chronic progressive disorder that if left untreated can result in serious heart problems."

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