Can Snoring Be Linked to Cancer?

Fat Person Snoring

Snoring may only seem like a small problem, but it’s not something you should take lightly. Almost everyone snores once in a while, but frequent snoring can lead to a variety of different sicknesses. Many studies have found a connection between snoring and serious health issues, including cancer.

Experts don’t fully understand the link between snoring and cancer yet, but plenty of research shows that snoring and other sleep issues can make your body more vulnerable to cancer. If you snore, you should speak to your doctor and look for treatment, so you can improve your sleep quality and protect your health.

Studies on Snoring and Cancer

Studies on Snoring and Cancer

Several studies have found a link between snoring, sleep apnea, and cancer. There are a few different explanations for how snoring is related to cancer, but all of these studies agree that there is a connection.

Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study

If you snore regularly, you may have sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing dozens or hundreds of times throughout the night. When you have sleep apnea, the tissues in your throat completely block your airway, preventing you from inhaling. This affects the quality of your sleep and stops you from getting enough oxygen, so it leads to a wide variety of health issues. Some studies have even found that people with sleep apnea are at an increased risk of dying from cancer.

This was confirmed by a study that followed 1,500 people for 22 years. Every four years, the subjects underwent sleep studies to record their sleep and breathing. After accounting for other cancer risk factors like obesity and smoking, the researchers determined that the subjects with sleep apnea were 4.8 times as likely to die from cancer as those who didn’t have the disorder. The study also found that even mild or moderate snoring increases the risk of cancer death.

Javier Nieto, one of the study’s authors, explains that sleep apnea is linked to cancer death because it reduces oxygen levels in your blood. Your body will grow new blood vessels to prevent suffocation, but these new blood vessels help the cancer cells spread more quickly.

Cancer Incidence Study

Sleep apnea doesn’t just increase your risk of dying from cancer. It also increases the chances that you’ll be affected by cancer at all. A study from Spain observed almost 5,000 patients for several years and found that sleep apnea was associated with an increased cancer incidence in those who were younger than 65.

The researchers suggest that the link between sleep apnea and cancer is hypoxia, or lack of oxygen in the body. When you stop breathing in your sleep, your body won’t take in enough oxygen. Over time, this can lead to dangerously low oxygen levels.

University of Chicago Sleep Quality Study

Poor-quality sleep can take a toll on your health regardless of the cause. Researchers from the University of Chicago found that interrupted sleep can speed up cancer growth and weaken the immune system.

The study focused on TLR4, or toll-like receptor 4, a molecule that helps control the immune system. TLR4 exists in the innate immune system, which defends against viruses, bacteria, and other foreign agents. The innate immune system is also responsible for fighting off cancer cells, but it isn’t always successful as it sometimes doesn’t recognize cancer as a foreign object.

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The researchers studied two groups of mice. One group had fragmented, disrupted sleep, and the other group had normal sleep. When the researchers injected tumor cells into both groups of mice, the sleep-deprived mice had higher levels of TLR4 and had larger tumors than those who slept normally. This shows that poor-quality sleep affects the immune system, which makes the body more vulnerable to cancer.

Hormones, Sleep, and Cancer

Snoring, sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders can have a big impact on your hormone levels. Certain hormones that are closely linked to cancer are also associated with sleep, which may be another reason for the connection between snoring and cancer.

One of these hormones is cortisol, which plays an important role in regulating your immune system and fighting off cancer cells. Your cortisol levels usually peak after you’ve slept for a few hours, and they gradually decline throughout the day. People who wake up frequently throughout the night tend to have higher cortisol levels than people who sleep soundly. Therefore, if you get poor sleep due to snoring or sleep apnea, your body may not be able to defend itself against cancer cells.

Cortisol levels

Melatonin, the hormone that helps your body regulate its sleep cycle, is also linked to cancer. It acts as an antioxidant and prevents cell damage, so it plays an important role in fighting cancer. When you don’t get enough sleep, your melatonin levels get low. This can be especially risky for women as low melatonin levels are linked to higher estrogen levels, which increase the risk of breast cancer.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea and Snoring

Snoring is the most common sign of sleep apnea, but there are other symptoms as well. The symptoms of sleep apnea and snoring are mostly the same, so it can be difficult to tell whether you have sleep apnea or just a snoring problem. If you snore, you should see your doctor and ask about doing a sleep study to find out whether you have sleep apnea or other sleep disorders.

When you have sleep apnea, you wake up several times during the night to catch your breath. Most people with sleep apnea don’t remember gasping for air when they wake up, but you may have noticed that you wake up frequently every night.

Snoring and sleep apnea both affect your sleep quality, so you may experience symptoms like drowsiness, forgetfulness, irritability, or difficulty concentrating. Even if you think you’ve gotten a full night of sleep, you may feel excessively tired and groggy all day.

If you wake up every day with a sore throat, dry mouth, or bad taste in your mouth, it may be a sign that you have difficulty breathing while you sleep. When you snore, the air has to move past the tissues in your throat forcefully, which can cause dryness. Morning headaches are also common in people who snore or have sleep apnea.

How to Reduce Your Risk

Fortunately, snoring and sleep apnea are both fixable problems. Most people are able to reduce or stop their snoring with lifestyle changes or other treatments. Here are some of the best things you can do to stop snoring and reduce your risk of cancer:

Avoid Smoking and Alcohol

Smoking and alcohol consumption both increase your risk of cancer, and they can make your snoring worse. Smoking can cause swelling and irritation in the throat, which makes it difficult to inhale, and alcohol can cause the tissues in your throat to relax too much and collapse. It’s especially important to avoid smoking and drinking right before you go to bed, but quitting altogether is best for your health.

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Manage Your Weight

Obesity is the most common cause of sleep apnea. Many people are able to cure their sleep apnea and stop snoring just by losing weight. When you have extra weight around your neck, the pressure can cause the tissues in your throat to collapse and block your airway.

Visit Your Doctor Regularly

Your doctor can recommend sleep apnea treatments if lifestyle changes aren’t enough, and he or she can refer you to specialists to treat other health issues that may result from your sleep disorder. Regular visits to your doctor can also help you discover cancer earlier, which will increase your chances of recovering.

Try Anti-snoring Devices

Lifestyle changes might be enough to stop your snoring, but you can also try anti-snoring treatments. Here are some of the most popular devices to treat snoring and sleep apnea:

CPAP: CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, is the most common treatment for sleep apnea. The device includes a machine that provides oxygen and a mask that sits over your nose or mouth. While you seep, the CPAP machine gives you a steady supply of oxygen, which keeps your airway open and helps you breathe.

CPAP can be highly effective, but some people struggle with the treatment. The mask may feel uncomfortable over your face, and you may not be able to sleep in your preferred position. If you’re diagnosed with sleep apnea, your doctor will probably begin by trying CPAP therapy. However, there are other treatment options you can try if the CPAP machine doesn’t work for you.

Pillows: Keeping your head propped up at the right angle can stop the tissues in your throat from collapsing and obstructing your airway. You can simply try sleeping with an extra pillow, or you can raise your mattress by placing books underneath. If you only snore when you sleep on your back, you can use a body pillow to help you sleep on your side.

If these solutions don’t work, you could try an anti-snoring pillow that’s designed to keep your airway open. Some pillows can detect when you snore and will inflate to prop your head up, and some will keep your head and neck perfectly aligned all night to prevent snoring.

Oral Appliances: An oral appliance is one of the most popular ways to treat snoring and sleep apnea. Oral anti-snoring devices are easy to use, portable, and effective. One option is a mandibular advancement device, which looks like a standard mouth guard but will hold you lower jaw forward to create more space in your airway. Another popular oral appliance is a tongue stabilizing device, which uses a suction cup to pull your tongue forward and stop it from collapsing over your throat.

It may take some time for you to find the best snoring or sleep apnea treatment. You may be able to fix the problem with lifestyle changes, or you may need other tools or anti-snoring devices. What’s most important is that you look for an effective treatment to help you sleep and improve your health. Snoring and sleep apnea are both linked to cancer and a number of other health issues, so they’re not problems that you should ignore.

Updated: 30.11.2018

Additional References: 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2542952/

https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-apnea/obstructive-sleep-apnea-causes#1

http://sleepeducation.org/essentials-in-sleep/sleep-apnea/symptoms-risk-factors

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