Snorers ‘are more likely to get cancer’… but it’s NOT because they tend to be fatter, study finds
- Swedish experts believe oxygen deprivation at night may be linked to cancer
- They studied patients with obstructive sleep apnoea to see their risk of tumours
- Millions of Britons and Americans suffer from the oxygen-sapping condition
Snorers may be more at risk of cancer, a study suggested today.
But researchers now say it’s not because they’re more likely to be fat, a smoker or suffer from other health conditions.
Swedish experts instead believe that it’s something to do with the lack of oxygen they get during the night.
Separate studies today also linked sleep apnoea with a decline in brain power and blood clots.
Millions of Britons and Americans suffer from the condition, when your breathing is interrupted during the night.
Usually, this presents itself as snoring — although the irritating, relationship-ruining noise is not always caused by it.
Swedish researchers found people with worse obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) — interrupted breathing at night — were at a higher risk of lung, prostate and skin cancer
OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNOEA
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) occurs when the walls of a person’s throat relax and narrow during sleep, blocking their airways.
This interrupts normal breathing, with symptoms including loud snoring, noisy and laboured breathing, and repeated episodes when breathing is interrupted by gasping and snorting.
OSA affects between four and 10 per cent of people in the UK. In the US, around 22 million are affected.
During an episode, the lack of oxygen triggers a sufferer’s brain to pull them out of deep sleep so their airways reopen.
These repeated sleep interruptions can make the person very tired, with them often being unaware of what the problem is.
Risks for OSA include:
- Being overweight – excess body fat increases the bulk of soft tissues in the neck
- Being male
- Being 40 or over
- Having a large neck
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
- Being in the menopause – hormonal changes cause the throat muscles to relax
Treatment includes lifestyle changes, such as loosing weight, if necessary, and avoiding alcohol.
In addition, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices prevent the airway closing by delivering a continuous supply of compressed air through a mask.
A mandibular advancement device (MAD) can also be used, which is like a gum-shield that holds the jaw and tongue forward to increase the space at the back of the throat.
Untreated, OSA increases a person’s risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attacks and type 2 diabetes.
The research, presented at a medical conference in Barcelona, tracked nearly 4,200 patients who had the obstructive form of apnoea.
Half of them also had been diagnosed with cancer in the past five years.
Scientists led by Dr Andreas Palm, of Uppsala University, measured how severe their condition was.
This involved two tests, one of which measured the number of breathing disturbances during sleep and scored them on the apnoea hypopnea index (AHI).
The other measured how many times oxygen levels in the blood fell by 3 per cent for at least 10 seconds every hour — the oxygen desaturation index (ODI).
Results showed patients with cancer generally had more interruptions during their sleep.
They had an average AHI score of 32, compared to 30 in the non-cancer group. Their ODI was also 28 compared to 26.
Meanwhile ODI was higher in patients with lung cancer (38 compared to 27), prostate cancer (28 compared to 24) and skin cancer (32 compared to 25).
Dr Palm said: ‘It is known already that patients with obstructive sleep apnoea have an increased risk of cancer.
‘But it has not been clear whether or not this is due to the OSA itself or to related risk factors for cancer, such as obesity, cardiometabolic disease and lifestyle factors.
‘Our findings show that oxygen deprivation due to OSA is independently associated with cancer.’
However, the study was merely observational and cannot prove that apnoea causes cancer.
Physical activity — one of the key factors influencing cancer — was not accounted for, researchers said.
Dr Palm said: ‘More research is needed, and we hope our study will encourage other researchers to research this important topic.’
The research was presented as an abstract at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress.
Obstructive sleep apnoea affects around 1.5million people in Britain and 22million in the US.
It occurs when the walls of a person’s throat relax and narrow during sleep, blocking their airways. This can lead to loud snoring, as well as noisy and laboured breathing.
OSA can be caused by obesity, which increases the bulk of fat around the neck, which narrows the airway and weakens the muscles used to keep them open.
Another study shown at the same conference suggested OSA also causes a decline in brain power in the elderly.
Researchers from Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland said those aged 74 years or more and men showed a steeper decline in certain cognitive tests.
Meanwhile, a third study, from Angers University Hospital in France, suggested the condition can increase the risk of developing deadly blood clots in the veins.