There are many conditions that are strongly linked with sleep apnea, such as heart disease, diabetes, and chronic fatigue. But with cancer, the connection with sleep apnea is not as strong. Some studies show increased risk, while others show no increased risk.
New research shows, though, that, even if sleep apnea doesn’t increase your risk of developing cancer, it can speed the growth of tumors once they develop.
Sleep Apnea May Increase Blood Supply for Tumors
Growth and reproduction of cells depends on getting the nutrients your blood supplies. Because tumors grow and reproduce much faster than normal cells–this is how they spread and take over your body–they require more blood supply than other cells.
Blood vessel growth in the body is controlled in part by vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). The more VEGF you have in your body, the more blood vessels you grow. Cancers already produce VEGF to stimulate the growth of blood vessels in them, and some cancer treatments target this–restricting the amount of VEGF available, starving the tumors so growth slows down.
But when you have sleep apnea, the opposite occurs. When your body experiences oxygen shortages (called hypoxias), your entire body demands more blood. This is what causes your brain to tell you heart to pump harder, leading to high blood pressure, and it also causes your entire body to produce more VEGF so that needy cells can get more oxygen. Researchers discovered this by exposing mice to intermittent hypoxias and measuring the amount of VEGF they had in their blood. Mice who had experienced oxygen shortages had more VEGF than those that hadn’t.
Researchers also looked more directly at tumors. They found that when they exposed tumors to oxygen shortages, they grew more blood vessels more rapidly than the tumors that never experienced oxygen shortages.
The Constant Battle against Cancer
Cancers are constantly developing in the body, and the body is constantly working to keep them under control. The first problem is detection. When cells turn cancerous, your immune system tries to detect and destroy them before they can grow. Gum disease can hamper detection of cancers, making it more likely that individual cancerous cells will survive and grow. So gum disease management might play an important role in cancer prevention.
The next problem is time. As tumors grow, they can soon get large enough that your body can’t fight them, and that’s when they begin to destroy you. Now that we know the role sleep apnea may play in speeding cancer growth, it seems that sleep apnea treatment might also be vital to preventing cancer.
If you are looking for a sleep apnea treatment that can protect you from the potential effects of this deadly condition, we can help. Please call (619) 299-5925 for an appointment with a San Diego sleep dentist at Strober Dental today.