New Study shows how Sleep Apnea can Promote Cancer Growth


When we think of the harms that come with snoring & sleep apnea, the first is always the annoying noise. Then there’s the day time sleepiness, and association to high blood pressure and heart diseases.

But promoting cancer growth?!

During the 2016 European Association of Urology Congress that happened this month in Munich, Germany, Dr. Antoni Vilaseca from the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona in Spain, presented a new experiment finding that suggests a possible explanation between worsening cancer and sleep apnea.

In the study, the researchers studied a group of mice with kidney tumors. Half of these mice were placed in the control group (aka Do nothing), and the other half, the experimental group, were introduced to a reduction of oxygen to simulate intermittent hypoxia. Hypoxia basically means insufficient oxygen in the body, which is a condition people with sleep apnea would experience, because of the breathing pause due to the collapsed airway. People with sleep apnea will experience intermittent hypoxia throughout the night.

The experimental group of mice were found to have an increased amount of vascular progenitor cells and endothelial cells within their kidney tumors. These cells basically promote the creation of new blood vessels in the tumors, which means more nutrients and supply for the tumors.

“Patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea usually suffer from intermittent hypoxia at night. This work shows that intermittent hypoxia has the potential to promote the formation of blood vessels within tumors, meaning that the tumors have access to more nutrients.” Said by Dr. Vilaseca.

I wasn’t surprised by the finding of this experiment at all. While these may not be related at all, this study reminds me of another example where our body also generates new blood vessels due to a lack of oxygen supply.  Corneal neovascularisation, is the formation of blood vessels over the corneal due to lack of oxygen from prolonged contact lenses wear. If left untreated, one could lose their eyesight completely.

Of course though, this is only an experiment on the mice, not on human. But it nevertheless represents a possible new explanation and resonant to some previous studies. This could be another reason for you, if you haven’t done so already, to acknowledge the potential harm of snoring and sleep apnea, and to start doing something to address it.

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