Quad Cities, IL/IA

Working with the community... for a healthier community.

Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Cancer: Connected?


By Jeffrey Bassman, DDS, PC, Center for Headaches, Sleep & TMJ Disorders

Is there a connection between the incidence of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) or sleep disorder breathing (SDB,) and the prevalence of cancer? Can cancer lead to many of the symptoms of sleep apnea? Can sleep apnea predispose one to cancer, or are both true?
There are conflicting arguments concerning the relationship between sleep apnea and cancer. OSA, if not treated or maintained, (with surgical approaches, lifestyle changes, CPAP machines, or oral mouthpieces) has been linked to a variety of health issues: high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, depression, and even death. Another health outcome is being explored, cancer.

There have been several research studies that have focused on the association between OSA and cancer. What is significant is that OSA/SDB is characterized by many episodes of oxygen deprivation. Lack of oxygen to the body can raise havoc with all the systems of the body! Some studies have noted that OSA may weaken the immune system, diminishing the defense mechanisms of the body and allowing the cancer cells to develop and grow. Other research has explored the potential consequences of cancer in creating issues like OSA.

One study by Dr. F. Javier Nieto, Chair of the Department of Population Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, stated that: “the study showed a nearly five-times higher incidence of cancer in patients with severe SDB (sleep disorder breathing,) compared to those without the disorder…”

Another doctor, Dr. Joseph Golish, a professor of sleep medicine with the MetroHealth System of Cleveland, stated that: “It’s the first time this has been shown, and it looks like a very solid association.” Even more important, is that Dr. Golish says that many other health issues are “well-documented” as a link to OSA/SDB, “but until disproven, it [cancer] would be one more reason to get your apnea treated or get it diagnosed if you think you have it.”

With additional research, some studies backed up the association, while other findings point out that more information is necessary. Sleep apnea is considered life threatening and lack of oxygen enhances blood vessel growth in tumors. So, can OSA/SDB increase the likelihood of the cancer developing or getting worse? Can cancer increase the likelihood that OSA/SDB manifests or gets worse? Why take the chance?  A sleep study may open one’s eyes to underlying health issues. No matter what the treatment, consider the alternative.

Jeffrey Bassman, DDS, PC, has been practicing dentistry in the Quad Cities since 1977 and TMJ and dental sleep medicine since 1985. For more information or a free consultation, please call 563-391-1525, or visit www.jbassmantmj.com. His offices are located at 141 east 46th Street, Davenport, Iowa.