Snorers “are more likely to get cancer”…but that’s NOT because they tend to be fatter, according to the study
- Swedish experts believe that nocturnal oxygen deprivation may be linked to cancer
- They studied patients with obstructive sleep apnea to determine their cancer risk
- Millions of Britons and Americans suffer from lack of oxygen
Snorers may be at higher risk of cancer, a study suggested today.
But researchers now say it’s not because they’re more likely to be fat, smoke, or have other health problems.
Swedish experts instead believe it has something to do with the lack of oxygen they get during the night.
Separate studies today have also linked sleep apnea to a decline in brain power and blood clots.
Millions of Brits and Americans suffer from the condition when your breathing stops during the night.
This usually presents as snoring—although the irritating, relationship-destroying sound isn’t always caused by it.
Swedish researchers found that people with worse obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) – breathing pauses at night – were at higher risk of lung, prostate and skin cancer
Obstructive sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the walls of a person’s throat relax and narrow during sleep, blocking their airway.
This interrupts normal breathing, with symptoms such as loud snoring, loud and labored breathing, and repeated episodes when breathing is interrupted by wheezing and snorting.
OSA affects between four and ten percent of people in the UK. Around 22 million are affected in the United States.
During an episode, the lack of oxygen triggers a sufferer’s brain to snap them out of deep sleep to allow their airways to reopen.
These repeated sleep disruptions can make the person very tired, often unaware of what the problem is.
Risks for OSA include:
- Obesity – Excess body fat increases the mass of the soft tissues in the neck
- be male
- be 40 or older
- have a big neck
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
- Being menopausal – hormonal changes cause the throat muscles to relax
Treatment includes lifestyle changes, such as weight loss if needed and avoiding alcohol.
In addition, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices prevent the airway from closing by delivering a continuous supply of pressurized air through a mask.
A Mandibular Advancement Device (MAD) can also be used, which is like a mouth guard that keeps the jaw and tongue forward to increase space in the back of the throat.
Left untreated, OSA increases a person’s risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, and type 2 diabetes.
Presented at a medical conference in Barcelona, the study followed nearly 4,200 patients suffering from the obstructive form of apnea.
Half of them had also had cancer in the last five years.
Scientists led by Dr. Andreas Palm from Uppsala University measured how severe her condition was.
These were two tests, one of which measured the number of breathing disturbances during sleep and rated them using the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI).
The other measured how often blood oxygen levels dropped by 3 percent for at least 10 seconds every hour — the oxygen desaturation index (ODI).
The results showed that patients with cancer generally had more sleep disruptions.
They had an average AHI score of 32, compared to 30 in the non-cancer group. Her ODI was also 28 compared to 26.
Meanwhile, the ODI was higher in patients with lung cancer (38 vs. 27), prostate cancer (28 vs. 24), and skin cancer (32 vs. 25).
dr Palm said: “It is already known that patients with obstructive sleep apnea have an increased risk of cancer.
“However, it was not clear whether this was due to the OSA itself or to related risk factors for cancer such as obesity, cardiometabolic diseases and lifestyle factors.
“Our results show that oxygen deprivation due to OSA is independently associated with cancer.”
However, the study was only an observational study and cannot prove that apnea causes cancer.
Physical activity — one of the key factors affecting cancer — was not considered, the researchers said.
dr Palm said, “More research is needed and we hope our study will encourage other researchers to explore this important topic.”
The research was presented as an abstract at the international congress of the European Respiratory Society (ERS).
Obstructive sleep apnea affects around 1.5 million people in the UK and 22 million in the US.
It occurs when the walls of a person’s throat relax and narrow during sleep, blocking their airways. This can lead to loud snoring, as well as loud and labored breathing.
OSA can be caused by obesity, which increases fat mass around the neck, narrowing the airways and weakening the muscles that keep them open.
Another study presented at the same conference suggested that OSA also leads to a decline in brain function in older people.
Researchers at Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland said people aged 74 and older and men showed a steeper decline on certain cognitive tests.
Meanwhile, a third study from Angers University Hospital in France suggested the condition may increase the risk of developing deadly blood clots in the veins.