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This Is How Sleep Apnea Promotes Cancer Growth & What You Can Do About It

When we think of the trouble that snoring and sleep apnea bring, the first is always the annoying noise. Then there’s the daytime sleepiness, and association with high blood pressure and heart diseases.

But promoting cancer growth?

Study Shows New Linkage Between Sleep Apnea and Cancer Growth During the 2016 European Association of Urology Congress that happened this month in Munich, Germany, Dr. Antoni Vilaseca from the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona in Spain presented a new experiment finding which suggests a possible link between worsening cancer and sleep apnea.

In the study, the researchers studied a group of mice with kidney tumors. Half of these mice were placed in the control group (aka: Do nothing), and the other half, the experimental group, were introduced to a reduction of oxygen to simulate intermittent hypoxia. Hypoxia basically means insufficient oxygen in the body, which is a condition people with sleep apnea would experience, because of the breathing pause due to collapsed airway. People with sleep apnea will experience intermittent hypoxia throughout the night.

Lack of Oxygen Enhances Blood Vessel Growth in Tumor.
The experimental group of mice was found to have an increased amount of vascular progenitor cells and endothelial cells within their kidney tumors. These cells basically promote the creation of new blood vessels in the tumours. This is problematic because, as Dr. Vilaseca notes, “Patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea usually suffer from intermittent hypoxia at night. This work shows that intermittent hypoxia has the potential to promote the formation of blood vessels within tumors, meaning that the tumors have access to more nutrients.”

On a side note, this study reminds me of another example where our body also generates new blood vessels due to a lack of oxygen supply — corneal neovascularisation, which is the formation of blood vessels over the cornea due to lack of oxygen from prolonged contact lenses wear. If left untreated, one could lose their eyesight completely.

The findings of this new study resonate with some previous studies that also suggest sleep apnea can enhance cancer, and help to flesh out the theory. This is definitely another reason for you, if you haven’t done so already, to acknowledge the potential harms of snoring and sleep apnea, and to do something to address it.

How to Know if you Have Sleep Apnea?

Here are some steps you can take to find out if you have sleep apnea:

  • Listen to your body. Ask yourself if you wake up tired or often find yourself tired throughout the day. If you don’t, then your sleep is most likely healthy; but if you do, then there’s probably something causing your poor rest at night. You could rate yourself using the Epworth Sleepiness Scale.
  • Ask your sleep partner. If you sleep with someone, you’ve likely found out already! Here’s how your partner can figure out if you have sleep apnea or not. For the more common sleep apnea (obstructive), one would snore continuously for a duration, and then the noise disappears. After 10 or 20 seconds to a minute of silence, there would be a big gasp for air, and then back to snoring. This cycle can repeat for a couple of times throughout the night.
  • For the less common sleep apnea (central), one would also pause their breathing for some time before the gasp for air, but there is no snoring.
  • Download a free sleep monitoring app on your smartphone. There are many apps which can monitor your snoring at night, and most of them include a few free trials so you can see if there’s any sign of sleep apnea without having to subscribe. Or you can use a recorder.
  • Do a sleep test.

Tips For you if you Have Sleep Apnea

If you think you might have sleep apnea, here are some natural steps you can take to help address it:

  • If you smoke, quit that.
  • If you are a heavy drinker, quit that too.
  • Exercise. Start small; a 30 minutes’ walk each day is a good place to start.
  • Establish a consistent sleep schedule.
  • Lose weight. No meal 3 hours prior to sleep. Retrain your breathing habit and exercise your tongue to strengthen your airway against airway collapse.
  • Sleep on your side.
  • Keep your mouth closed during sleep.