New research published in the European Respiratory Journal1 found a link between sleep apnoea and cancer. The concerning part is that the link appears to be much more significant in women, a group who tends to be critically underdiagnosed.
Snoring is one of the first signs of sleep apnoea. Sleep apnoea is a condition in which the airway closes for a brief moment during sleep, causing the person to stop breathing. Quite often, it causes people to wake up multiple times in the night and diminishes their quality of sleep. Obstructive sleep apnoea occurs when the muscles in the throat relax and hang down far enough to completely block the airway. Snoring is one of the most common warning signs of sleep apnoea, but other symptoms include fatigue and difficulty concentrating.
We already know that snoring and sleep apnoea can cause health problems such as hypertension, increased risk of stroke and chronic fatigue if left untreated in the long run. The possible link between sleep apnoea and cancer is a relatively new investigation. It developed out of another field of research that linked cancer to low blood oxygen levels. Snoring and sleep apnoea cause low blood oxygen levels.
The newest study involved researchers from 12 European institutions. They analysed records of 19,556 participants from the European Sleep Apnoea database. They looked at how many times participants with sleep apnoea woke up during the night, and how often their blood oxygen levels dropped below 90%. The researchers then looked at cancer diagnoses among their participant group.
About 2% of participants had some form of cancer, most commonly prostate cancer in males and breast cancer in females. Statistical analyses showed that women with sleep apnoea were more likely than the general population to have a cancer diagnosis, but men were not.
The study’s author, Athanasia Pataka from Aristotle University, speculated that women with sleep apnoea might have a higher risk because of how certain types of cancer can be affected differently by oxygen levels. Recent studies have found a link between low oxygen levels and breast cancer2. Sleep apnoea causes low oxygen blood levels during the night.
Further studies are needed to confirm the findings, but it is an important area of research. Women with snoring and sleep apnoea are much less likely to be diagnosed than men. Common symptoms of sleep apnoea in women can be slightly different from male symptoms. They include fatigue, insomnia, depression and morning headaches. Male or female, there are ways to manage snoring and sleep apnoea once they’re diagnosed.