Women with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) appear to be at a much higher risk of cancer than men with the disease, researchers warn.
The study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, is based on analyzes of registry data, collected in the European database ESADA, totaling about 20,000 adult patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). About 2% of them also had a cancer diagnosis.
"It is reasonable to assume that sleep apnea is a risk factor for cancer or that both conditions have common risk factors, such as being overweight. On the other hand, cancer is less likely to lead to sleep apnea," said Ludger Grote, a professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
According to the researchers, advanced age was associated with elevated cancer risk, but adjusting the data for age, gender, body mass index (BMI), smoking, and alcohol consumption nonetheless showed a possible link between intermittent hypoxia in the evening and higher cancer.
The relationship was mainly applied to women and weakened to men. "Our findings indicate a cancer risk that is elevated two to three times among women with pronounced sleep apnea," Grote said.
The state of sleep apnea is known to the general public and associated with snoring, daytime fatigue and elevated risk of cardiovascular disease, especially in men, the study said. This research opens the way for a new view – that sleep apnea could possibly be linked to increased cancer risk, especially in women.
"Mainly the focus has been on the relationship with one form of cancer: malignant melanoma. Cancer of the breast or uterus can now become a new area. There may be a combined effect of female sex hormones and stress activation, induced by nocturnal hypoxia in sleep apnea. , this can trigger cancer development or weaken the body's immune system, "Grote concluded.
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