Sleep apnea promotes cancer onset and progression

A study published in the scholarly journal Cancer Research suggests that fragmented sleep, caused by sleep apnea, promotes cancer progression. It just goes to show that sleeping well is really not a waste of time!

In addition to being associated with an increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, studies indicate that the lack of getting enough sleep also increases the risk of developing certain cancers. For example, people who sleep less than six hours a night have an incidence of colorectal polyps (a major risk factor for colon cancer) 37% higher than those who sleep more than seven hours.

Older men who have trouble sleeping also see their risk of prostate cancer significantly increased, especially for the most aggressive forms of the disease. Likewise, postmenopausal women who suffer from insomnia are at greater risk of developing thyroid cancer, but this lack of sleep does not appear to increase their risk of breast cancer.

Sleep apnea increases the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease

You need to get enough sleep to prevent cancer, but the quality of that sleep is poor. also important. For example, people with sleep apnea have their risk of colorectal cancer greatly increased, even if they spend more than nine hours in bed.

These episodes of apnea are caused by involuntary relaxation of the tongue and throat muscles, which obstructs the flow of air to the lungs and causes breathing pauses that can last for several seconds. The ensuing lack of oxygen reflexively causes a momentary (and most of the time unconscious) awakening and an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, which explains the increased risk of cardiovascular disease in those affected.

In parallel, the lack of oxygen associated with these frequent stops in breathing also activates certain proteins sensitive to hypoxia, in particular the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF), which leads to an increase in proangiogenic and procancerous factors such as VEGF which promotes tumor progression.

Sleep apnea promotes chronic inflammation

By examining the evolution of tumors from implanted cancer cells in models, a research team from the University of Chicago observed that frequent sleep disturbance was associated with faster tumor growth, both in size and size. of their ability to invade tissues.

Microscopic examination of these tumors indicates that sleep fragmentation is associated with the massive recruitment of inflammatory cells (macrophages) near cancer cells, these cells being known to secrete several inflammatory molecules that stimulate the growth of tumor cells.

Poor quality sleep is therefore not a simple “inconvenience” which disrupts our days due to greater fatigue. It is actually a serious imbalance in the body’s balance, which creates a climate of chronic inflammation

capable of supporting the progression of the cancer.

How to reduce sleep apnea

Overweight and obesity are the main causes of sleep apnea and people with a body mass index greater than 24 must therefore pay particular attention to certain signs that denote poor quality sleep (very loud snoring, heavy fatigue, headaches, irritability)

Losing a few extra pounds, exercising, preparing for sleep by avoiding overly stimulating activities and reducing alcohol and food consumption rich at supper are therefore changes that can help to get quality sleep.

For more serious cases, medical intervention using night ventilation devices may be necessary to restore quality sleep, increase quality of life and thus reduce the risk of premature death.


Hakim F et al . Fragmented sleep accelerates tumor growth and progression through recruitment of tumor-associated macrophages and TLR4 signaling. Cancer Res. 74: 390 – 37.

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Sleep Apnea Cancer chronic inflammation cardiovascular diseases fragmented sleep

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