Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder that affects about 18 million Americans. It has been linked to higher risk of heart disease, depression, high blood pressure and sleep deprivation. The two new studies now link sleep apnea to the higher risk of dying from cancer.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea happens when a person sleeping stops breathing several, sometimes hundreds of times. The pauses in breathing last up to 60 seconds and during that time your brain and the rest of the body do not receive enough oxygen. The most common reason is blocked airway because of collapsed soft tissue in the throat. People most at risk are male, over 40, overweight, possibly with the history of sleep apnea in the family, but everyone, including children, can be affected by this serious disorder.
Many people are not aware that they suffer from sleep apnea. If you snore regularly and often wake up in the morning groggy and exhausted, talk to your doctor. He can diagnose apnea accurately and suggest one of several available devices to help you breathe better.
How is sleep apnea linked to cancer?
Two studies, one by a group of Spanish researchers from the La Fe University and Polytechnic Hospital and other by the scientists from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, presented their findings at the recent conference of the American Thoracic Society. Both studies are observational, but the findings are significant because they discounted the obvious risk factor for cancer such as age, alcohol use, smoking, lack of physical activity and excessive weight.
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The light into the possible reason for this strong link between sleep apnea and cancer comes from another study, this one on animals, which shows that mice with tumors, when deprived of oxygen, had their tumors growing much faster.
Interestingly, both studies on humans confirm that the risk existed only for people with untreated apnea and not for people using one of the existing devices. This also shows that the oxygen deprivation is the most likely cause of increased cancer risk.
Sleep apnea treatment
It is very important to get diagnosed early if you suspect that you have sleep apnea. Some mild cases can be taken care of with some simple changes in your lifestyle, but in most cases people need the device called CPAP or continuous positive airway pressure device. This machine or mask keeps blowing air into your throat during the night, ensuring that your airway is opened and you are getting oxigen.
If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, and the first possible sign is heavy snoring, start by losing some weight, stop smoking, make sure your nose is not congested and ensure that you are sleeping on your side and not on your back.
In some serious cases, operation is the only way to help with sleep apnea.