Researchers link sleep apnea to higher cancer death rates - My29 WFTC Minneapolis-St. Paul

Researchers link sleep apnea to higher cancer death rates

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Flickr/Creative Commons/Rachel Tayse Flickr/Creative Commons/Rachel Tayse

It's well known that sleep apnea is a dangerous disorder that can cause someone to stop breathing many times throughout the night and cause health problems if left untreated. Now however, researchers say those who suffer from sleep apnea are more likely to die from cancer.

When it comes to his health, Mark Berge has many concerns. He was diagnosed with sleep apnea ten years ago, and on Monday, he got a neurological check at the Noran Sleep Center for dizziness.

"I was waking up during the night and I wasn't getting any good sleep," he recalled.

Berge says the day he started wearing the CPAP machine, his life changed.

"I don't feel so tired. I don't feel so lethargic. I feel like I got a good quality of sleep during the night," he said.

Research has long shown that those with sleep apnea have an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes, but a new study found those who have sleep apnea are up five times more likely to die from cancer than those without. It also found those who were not obese were more susceptible.

"This is just another bit of evidence that says not breathing is bad for your health," said Dr. Eric Hernandez, who explained that the negative health effects are caused by oxygen levels in the blood.

When those who suffer from sleep apnea stop breathing at multiple points through the night -- sometimes for seconds or minutes at a time, blood vessels begin to grow into tissues suffering from a lack of oxygen to help combat the disease.

"If your oxygen drops, that means more blood vessels grow -- and if blood vessels grow into tumors, tumors grow faster," explained Hernandez.

About 28 million Americans -- including 300,000 Minnesotans -- have some form of sleep apnea, though many cases go undiagnosed.

"When people have untreated apnea -- seriously, consequences happen. That includes dying," said Hernandez. "If you stop breathing at night, if you are tired during the day, if you snore loudly -- you should get checked."

Luckily, treatment can help -- something Berge knows first-hand.

"My health has improved because of the machine in more ways than I can actually count," he said. "It has improved my quality of life immensely for me. I'm not too worried for increased possibility of cancer."

Hernandez did say there is much more research that needs to be done on the relation between sleep apnea and cancer, but he said those who do have cancer as well as sleep apnea symptoms could live longer with treatment.

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