Sleep Apnea Cancer Connection

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Sleep Apnea and Cancer

Sleep apnea can hurt your health if not diagnosed and treated. One of the most serious health issues related to sleep apnea is an increased risk for cancer.

How Does Sleep Apnea Affect the Body?

Sleep apnea causes sleep deprivation, which over time can affect overall health. Several studies have shown an association between sleep apnea and problems like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks, and even a shortened life span. A lack of sleep can affect insulin levels, and hormones and can also contribute to weight gain which further impacts health. Poor sleep can lower good cholesterol levels (HDL) and raise triglyceride levels.

Someone with pre-existing health issues and undiagnosed sleep apnea may be unsuspectedly allowing their health to erode by not addressing the problem of poor sleep. They may be unsuccessfully trying to manage health through diet and exercise but may not consider sleep as a factor.

Can Sleep Apnea Cause Cancer?

While sleep apnea may not directly cause cancer, its effect on overall health can increase the risk of getting a form of it. Like other diseases can develop as a result of poor sleep, so too can cancer.

Many patients with sleep apnea may also share other common risk factors such as obesity or lifestyle habits such as smoking. Researchers are not looking for a direct link between sleep apnea and cancer. Rather, they seek out the shared health patterns between sleep apnea and cancer diagnosis.

Studies To Find Sleep Apnea and Cancer Connection

One study by the Spanish Sleep Network found that people with the most serious cases of sleep apnea had a 65 percent greater risk of developing cancer.1

A study by the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort showed that people with symptoms of sleep apnea had 5 times higher risk of dying from cancer compared with people not afflicted by sleep apnea.1

Research published in Cancer Causes & Control found that, compared with the general population, people with sleep apnea had an increased risk of cancer, including kidney, melanoma, breast, and uterine cancer.1

Lung Cancer and Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea may also increase the risk of lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses. While no direct connection between sleep apnea and lung cancer was found, patients with obstructive sleep apnea did show a prevalence of lung cancer. The severity of sleep apnea appears inversely correlated with the tumor stage.

Other respiratory illnesses have been linked to sleep apnea along with lung cancer. About 20% of sleep apnea patients will have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and the majority of these patients (with combined diseases) will have pulmonary hypertension.2

Sleep Apnea and Throat Cancer

While obstructive sleep apnea starts in the throat, there is no clear indication that the presence of sleep apnea can lead to throat cancer. However, much like other patients with sleep apnea and cancer, managing cancer becomes more difficult without proper sleep. Unhealthy sleep can weaken the immune system and allow cancer to flourish.

Obstructive sleep apnea is also believed to have a potential role in cancer progression because hypoxia and sleep fragmentation may enable tumors to metastasize to other body parts more easily.

Sleep Apnea and Breast Cancer

Much like other patients battling cancer, sleep loss plays an important role in breast cancer treatment. Sleep deprivation that interrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm was tied to a faster recurrence of breast cancer after initial treatment. A breast cancer patient with sleep apnea is more likely to lose healthy sleep which impacts their recovery.

While sleep apnea does not cause breast cancer, it works against the best efforts of medical professionals and individual patients to fight the disease.

Research shows that the most common cancer in women is breast cancer and in men, it is prostate cancer.

Why Is Sleep Important for Our Health?

Whether we are disease-free or battling a serious illness, sleep is essential for well-being and health.

Healing Cells

Much of the body’s work to regulate cell growth occurs during sleep. We already know that when people have chronic sleep deprivation, it can lead to insulin resistance and chronic inflammation. Both of these conditions contribute to DNA damage, which in turn promotes the development of cancer. Further, inadequate sleep results in suppressed levels of melatonin, which plays a role in protecting against DNA damage and acts as a tumor suppressor.


A full night or 7 hours of sleep is crucial to help the body fight against infections, such as the cold or flu. Less sleep regularly strains the system and leaves the body vulnerable.

Recharging The Body After Daily Activities

In all people, but particularly for cancer patients, inadequate or unrefreshing sleep leads to fatigue, which in turn affects a patient’s quality of life and ability to tolerate treatment.

How To Get Tested for Sleep Apnea

A sleep apnea polysomnography test in a lab is one way you can get a test for sleep apnea. A more convenient option is a home sleep apnea test. They are completed in the comfort of your own home and are just as accurate and less expensive than lab tests. Find Complete Sleep Care Packages at Sleep Care Online. These comprehensive packages take you through testing, diagnosis, and recommended treatments— all from home.

Order a Home Sleep Test


  1. Everyday Health. Sleep Apnea Linked to Increased Cancer Risk  Roan, Shari. September 11, 2019.
  2. National Library of Medicine. Chronic lung disease in the sleep apnea syndrome


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