If sleep apnea were a character in a spaghetti western, it would be that guy, cloaked in all black that swings open the saloon doors and causes everyone to drop their drinks and turn their heads in silence. If sleep apnea were a character in the 1980s cartoon Inspector Gadget, it would definitely be Dr. Claw. A brand new study, which was recently presented at the European Respiratory Society, shows a definite link between sleep apnea and cancer – specifically a malignant form of skin cancer.
While other studies have tried to find a causal link between sleep apnea and cancer, none have been conducted with real, live human beings like this recent study. In other studies, mice were used to connect sleep apnea, cancer and subsequent mortality rates. Basically, the mice were starved of oxygen in their blood stream, thus mimicking the physiological response of sleep apnea, which ultimately did cause an increase in tumor and cancer cell growth. This most current study, however, is the first to show a link between humans, sleep apnea and a specific type of malignant skin cancer called melanoma.
The melanoma exhibited different and higher rates of aggressiveness in each patient based on the severity of the individual’s sleep apnea.
– Francisco Campos-Rodriguez, MD
The study, which was conducted at the Hospital de Valme in Seville, Spain, took a look at 56 patients who had malignant skin melanomas. Within the patient sample, 60.7% had regular brand sleep apnea and 14.3% had severe sleep apnea. The researchers then drew lines between the aggressiveness of the cancer and the severity of sleep apnea. The results: the more severe the sleep apnea, the more aggressive the melanoma, of course – thus further cementing the sleep disorder as the most villainous of all sleep disorders.
In fact, the study showed that the melanoma exhibited different and higher rates of aggressiveness in each patient based on the severity of the individual’s sleep apnea. When researchers measured the aggressiveness of the skin cancer, they took a look at things like the size of tumors and the depth of invasion of the tumor – basically how far in the body the cancer spread.
While this study is only preliminary, researchers can safely surmise that there is a definite link between skin cancer and sleep apnea. Currently, researchers have 450 people in line to study this link further, but in the meantime they say that these findings could “open up new therapeutic possibilities for people” suffering from sleep apnea – namely CPAP treatment. But while this study shows a particularly grim prognosis for those suffering with sleep apnea, it also offers a lot of hope as well. Just remember, though, you can head to the beach for a little tanning session, but if you have sleep apnea, you might want to take extra precautions.