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Sleep Apnea Does Not Increase Cancer Risk, Study

Update Date: Aug 05, 2014 05:07 PM EDT

New research reveals that there is no link between sleep apnea and cancer. Canadian researchers said that around 5 percent of adults aged 45 or older suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, which can damage health.

However, more than 20 percent of adult Canadians have risk factors for sleep apnea such as being overweight, male, diabetic or suffering nasal congestion or other conditions.

Previous studies suggest that the sleep disorder could increase the risk of cancer as it lowers oxygen levels in the blood.

"There is a need for a sufficiently large cohort study with a long enough follow-up to allow for the potential development of cancer that adjusts for important potential confounders, examines common cancer subtypes and has a rigorous assessment of both obstructive sleep apnea and cancer," Dr. Tetyana Kendzerska, Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and Women's College Hospital, University of Toronto, and her team wrote in the study.

After looking at data from 10,149 patients diagnosed with sleep apnea who underwent a sleep study between 1994 and 2010. Researchers noted that at the 5.1 percent of participants were diagnosed with cancer at the start of the study. However, 6.5 percent of people who did not have cancer at the start of the study developed tumors in the follow-up period.

According to the study, the most common cancers were prostate, breast, colorectal and lung tumors. However, the study revealed no causal link between obstructive sleep apnea and cancer after accounting for other cancer risk factors.

"We were not able to confirm previous hypotheses that obstructive sleep apnea is a cause of overall cancer development through intermittent hypoxemia [low blood oxygen levels]," researchers wrote in the study. "However, in subgroup analyses, we found that the level of oxygen desaturation was associated with the development of smoking-related cancer."

The findings are published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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