OSA and cancer

Does untreated OSA increase your risk of cancer?


Have you heard of the OSA and cancer connection?  Seems OSA is linked to almost every disease and disorder you can think of.  More and more studies are coming out linking OSA and other sleep disorders to some nasty diseases, and research has suggested cancer is one of them.

The research is fascinating.  Many studies have been conducted over the years, each using different approaches to observe potential connections between cancer and sleep-disordered breathing.  A commonality in these studies indicate that sleep apnea and other sleep related breathing disorders create conditions that support the growth and spread of cancer and tumors.


Here is a list of studies, with brief highlights:


Istanbul (Nov 2015)—The 7th World Congress of the World Sleep Federation reported that people with untreated severe OSA face a five-times-higher risk for developing and dying from cancer.

Taiwan (2014)—Researchers looked at several sleep disorders, including OSA, and recorded significantly higher risks for prostate cancer in patients who already suffered from OSA. Also, nasal, brain, colon, and breast cancer were found to occur more frequently for those with OSA.

Chicago mouse studies (2014)—In research labs using mice that already had tumors, scientists found that those placed in low oxygen environments saw an accelerated progression of their cancer.

Spain (2008)—Here, they examined the likelihood that people with OSA would be diagnosed with cancer and discovered that those with severe OSA were 65 percent more likely to receive a cancer diagnosis, especially for men under the age of 65.

Wisconsin Cohort (launched in 1988, ongoing)—This well-publicized study confirms links between SDB and cancer-related death. Those with SDB were found to be twice as likely to die from cancer than those with no night-time breathing problems.


It is estimated that nearly 28 million Americans suffer from OSA. Its treatment and screening of OSA in dental offices have already become a main protocol all over the world.  For patients that cannot tolerate the CPAP, dental alternatives such as Oral Appliance Therapy is also making treatment more accessible. OSA is connected to many other chronic health problems and adding cancer to this list only creates a higher sense of urgency for diagnosis and treatment.

It’s all about oxygen, period.  Your body requires a hefty amount of oxygen to function. Without it, all systems must work overtime to pull off basic human functions. When breathing obstructions from OSA happen during sleep, you can expect to have extremely poor sleep.  And if left untreated, chronic health problems will develop.


Such problems relating to the development of cancer include:


Chronic blood oxygen deprivation – It states that nocturnal intermittent hypoxia strongly links sleep apnea and cancer. The “blood oxygen roller coaster” it creates establishes conditions in the body which encourage cancer and tumors to grow and spread.

Systemic inflammation and the immune system – Without treatment, chemical imbalances in the bloodstream will lead to oxidative stress, which is the culprit behind many chronic health problems.  Oxidative stress is the wearing down of the system enough so that cancer can develop.

Sleep is a time where your entire body can rest and repair, without this process chronic diseases will flourishIn the case of cancer, evidence supports the fact that the growth and spread of the disease seems to be related to chronic health problems related to untreated OSA.  The research also suggests that OSA can be blamed for increased resistance of cancer cells to therapies such as radiation.  (References – Sleep Resolutions, AADSM.)


Learn more about identifying sleep apnea in the dental space and managing all your sleep apnea patients by attending an online CE seminar with HST America and Dr. Marty Lipsey, from Medical Billing for Dentists.  See our upcoming sleep seminar dates and video below.  If you’re a dentist already treating sleep apnea patients, give our (free for the dentist) home sleep testing services a try!