Lifestyle & Belief

Sleep apnea increases risk of cancer, heart attacks, stroke and diabetes


A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that nearly one-third of US workers don't get enough sleep. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)


Peter Macdiarmid

A new study shows sleep apnea can raise the risk for heart attacks, stroke and diabetes and makes a person five times more likely to die from cancer, according to CBS News.

The Daily Telegraph reported snoring and other types of "sleep disordered breathing" deprive the body of oxygen. Scientists say low blood oxygen levels can trigger the development of cancerous tumours, by promoting the growth of the vessels that feed them.

The study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, comes from US and Spanish researchers who examined people enrolled in a long-running "Wisconsin Sleep Cohort" study. 

It surveyed over 1,500 people who had been battling sleep problems for 22 years and found those with severe sleep disordered breathing (SDB) were 4.8 times more likely to develop cancer, the Telegraph reported.

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"Clearly, there is a correlation, and we are a long way from proving that sleep apnea causes cancer or contributes to its growth," study author Dr. F. Javier Nieto said in a statement as reported by CBS News. "But animal studies have shown that the intermittent hypoxia (an inadequate supply of oxygen) that characterizes sleep apnea promotes angiogenesis--increased vascular growth--and tumor growth. Our results suggest that SDB is also associated with an increased risk of cancer mortality in humans."

The New York Times wrote findings mark the first time sleep apnea has been linked to cancer in humans and that about 28 million Americans suffer from the sleep problem.