If You Do This at Night, Your Cancer Risk Soars, New Research Finds

·4 min read

Getting a good night's rest is often easier said than done. If you can relate, you may be among the one-third of U.S. adults who don't get the recommended amount of uninterrupted sleep they need to protect their health. And while an occasional night of poor sleep may simply leave you tired and irritable the next day, regularly missing out on quality sleep can have serious health repercussions. The scary part is that you may not even realize your sleep is suffering, allowing underlying health conditions to develop over time. A new study shines light on one nighttime habit that can cause your cancer risk to shoot up. Read on to learn about this common sleep behavior, and what to do if you struggle with it.

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Cancer's early warning signs can be subtle.

The first signs of cancer are often subtle and difficult to detect. Early cancer symptoms you shouldn't ignore include unintentional weight loss, fatigue, fever, and unexplained pain. If you experience any of these, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.cancer.gov/…cancer/causes-prevention/risk

Many lifestyle habits, environmental factors, and underlying health conditions can spike your cancer risk. These include obesity, cardiometabolic disease, tobacco use, drinking alcohol, an unhealthy diet, and lack of exercise, reports the National Cancer Institute. The most common types of cancer to watch out for are breast, lung, prostate, colon, and skin cancer.

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People who do this while sleeping are at an increased risk of cancer.

If you're a snorer, you're at an increased risk of cancer, says a new study presented in Sept. 2022 at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Snoring is a frequent symptom of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—a common condition in which your breathing stops and starts repeatedly while sleeping. This prevents your body from getting sufficient oxygen and increases your risk of several health complications, including cancer, heart failure, blood clots, and cognitive decline.

"It is known already that patients with obstructive sleep apnea have an increased risk of cancer, but it has not been clear whether or not this is due to the OSA itself or related risk factors for cancer, such as obesity, cardiometabolic disease and lifestyle factors," said Andreas Palm, MD, one of the study's researchers and a senior consultant at Uppsala University, Sweden, in a statement. "Our findings show that oxygen deprivation due to OSA is independently associated with cancer."

Lack of oxygen to your brain is associated with cancer.

In the study, researchers looked at data from 62,811 patients in Sweden for the five years before they began treatment for OSA. For several years, participants received OSA treatment via continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This device delivers air pressure through a mask to keep your airway passages open during sleep. The findings concluded that participants with OSA had an elevated risk of certain types of cancer.

Of the study's participants, 2,093 who had OSA and a cancer diagnosis were paired with a control group of 2,093 patients who also had OSA but were cancer-free. Researchers measured OSA severity using the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI), a scale that measures the number of breathing disturbances during sleep, or the oxygen desaturation index (ODI), which measures the frequency at which blood oxygen levels drop by at least three percent for ten seconds or longer in an hour.

"We found that patients with cancer had slightly more severe OSA," said Palm. "In further analysis of subgroups, ODI was higher in patients with lung cancer, prostate cancer, and malignant melanoma."

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If you snore regularly, seek medical advice .

Do you snore at night? If so, visit a doctor who can perform a test to diagnose OSA. Two types of tests—nocturnal polysomnography and home sleep tests—are used to monitor breathing patterns, heart rate, and blood oxygen levels during sleep.

Fortunately, therapeutic and surgical treatments are available to treat OSA and reduce your cancer risk. The most common treatment is a CPAP machine, but other therapeutic options include receiving supplemental oxygen and using oral appliances that keep your throat open while you sleep. In addition, your healthcare provider may recommend adopting healthy lifestyle habits to address milder cases of OSA. These may include maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, avoiding alcohol, and quitting smoking.