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Researchers Find Link Between Sleep Apnea and Cancer for Adult Women

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A recent study by researchers in Europe found that women with obstructive sleep apnea(OSA ) have an increased risk of cancer compared to women without the disorder. There was no link between sleep apnea and cancer in men.

Researchers could not determine if the hormonal changes associated with OSA caused the cancers, or if, perhaps, some common risk factor caused both of the conditions.  They plan to do more studies to determine the direction of causation.  In the meantime, they urged women with sleep apnea not to panic.

  • Providers should make sure to screen women at each appointment for symptoms of sleep apnea. Female patients should ask housemates if they snore, since this fact may not come up in everyday conversation.
  • If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, get treatment.  While a CPAP or BPAP is the first line of treatment for most adults, there are other options available. If you can’t tolerate the CPAP, consider an oral appliance and myofunctional therapy.
  • If you’re a woman who has received a diagnosis of sleep apnea, stay up-to-date on your cancer screenings.  The most common form of cancer experienced by women in the study was breast cancer. Since OSA is linked with a higher cancer risk, make sure to receive mammograms as scheduled, and perform regular self-checks to look for lumps. 
  • If you’re a medical provider who serves women with OSA, make sure they’re aware that the condition means they need to get cancer screenings as scheduled.
  • All women, but especially those with OSA, should take steps to reduce their cancer risk, including quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet including a variety of plant-based nutrition sources, exercising, wearing appropriate sun protection, and making regular checkups with their primary care providers.

While the study isn’t a cause for panic, it does suggest that OSA can be very dangerous for women.  However, women often don’t get screened or treated for the disease, especially if no one reports that they’re snoring and they’re not overweight.  What should providers and patients do with this information?

Sleep is incredibly important to our health.  When OSA disrupts our sleep, we place our bodies under stress and can’t heal as quickly from illness and injuries Living with OSA means being proactive about your health and wellness, and getting the care you need to live a long, healthy life.