Presse Santé

Sleep apnea promotes the onset and progression of cancer

A study published in the academic journal Cancer Research suggests that fragmented sleep, caused by sleep apnea, promotes cancer progression. How to sleep well is not really a waste of time!

In addition to being associated with an increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, studies indicate that lack of sleep also increases the risk of developing certain types of cancer. For example, people who sleep less than six hours a night have a 50% higher incidence of colorectal polyps (a major risk factor for colon cancer) than those who sleep more than seven hours.

Older men who have trouble sleeping are also at significantly increased risk of prostate cancer, especially for the more aggressive forms of the disease. Similarly, postmenopausal women who suffer from insomnia are at increased risk of 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 heart disease

You need to get enough sleep to prevent cancer, but the quality of that sleep is just as important. For example, people with sleep apnea have a much higher risk of colorectal cancer, even if they spend more than nine hours in bed.

These episodes of apnea are caused by an involuntary relaxation of the muscles of the tongue and throat, which obstructs the flow of air to the lungs and causes pauses in breathing that can last for several seconds. The consequent lack of oxygen reflexively causes a momentary awakening (most often unconscious) 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 respiration stops also activates certain hypoxia-sensitive proteins, in particular hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF), which leads to an increase in proangiogenic and procancerous factors such as VEGF that favors tumor progression. .

Sleep apnea promotes chronic inflammation

Examining the course of implanted cancer cell tumors in models, a University of Chicago research team found that frequent sleep interruption was associated with faster tumor growth, both in terms of their size and their ability to invade tissues.

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

The poor quality of sleep, therefore, is not a simple “inconvenience” that disrupts our days due to greater fatigue. In reality, it is a great imbalance in the balance of the body, which creates a climate of inflammation.

capable of sustaining cancer progression.

How to reduce sleep apnea

Overweight and obesity are the main causes of sleep apnea, so people with a body mass index greater than 25 should pay special attention to certain signs that indicate poor sleep quality (very loud snoring, intense fatigue , headaches, irritability).

Losing a few extra kilos, exercising, preparing for sleep by avoiding overly stimulating activities, and cutting back on alcohol and rich foods at dinner are therefore changes that can help you get quality sleep.

For more severe cases, medical intervention using nocturnal ventilation devices may be necessary to restore quality of 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. 74:1329-37.

* Presse Santé strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information provided can not replace the advice of a health professional.

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