Sleep apnea and subsequent cancer incidence

Cancer Causes Control. 2018 Oct;29(10):987-994. doi: 10.1007/s10552-018-1073-5. Epub 2018 Aug 17.


Purpose: In vitro and animal models suggest that the physiological effects of sleep apnea could contribute to cancer risk, yet epidemiologic studies have been inconsistent.

Methods: We identified a cohort of adults diagnosed with sleep apnea between 2005 and 2014 using regional administrative databases. Linking this cohort to a population-based cancer registry, we identified first incident cancers diagnosed after sleep apnea diagnosis through 2015. We calculated age-sex standardized cancer incidence ratios (SIRs) to compare the observed number of cancers among those with sleep apnea with expected population estimates over a comparable period.

Results: Among 34,402 individuals with sleep apnea, 1,575 first incident cancers were diagnosed during follow-up (mean ± SD; 5.3 ± 2.0 years). Compared to the general population, cancer incidence (SIR 1.26, 95% CI 1.20-1.32) was elevated among sleep apnea patients. We observed significantly elevated incidence for kidney (SIR 2.24, 95% CI 1.82-2.72), melanoma (SIR 1.71, 95% CI 1.42-2.03), breast (SIR 1.43, 95% CI 1.76-2.00), and corpus uteri (SIR 2.80, 95% CI 2.24-2.47) while risk for lung (SIR 0.66, 95% CI 0.54-0.79) and colorectal cancer (SIR 0.71, 95% CI 0.56-0.89) was lower.

Conclusion: These findings suggest an elevated cancer burden, particularly at certain sites, among individuals with diagnosed sleep apnea. Results should be interpreted with caution due to unmeasured confounders (e.g., BMI, diabetes).

Keywords: Cancer registry; Intermittent hypoxia; Medical records; Population health; Sleep apnea.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Registries
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / epidemiology*
  • Young Adult