Snoring or waking up exhausted ‘could be early warning sign of cancer’

SNORING could mean you’re more likely to be diagnosed with cancer, experts have revealed.

New findings suggest the annoying trait could be linked to the disease – in women.

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Women suffering sleep apnoea are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than those who don’t suffer the sleep disorder, new findings have shown

Women at risk

Women suffering sleep apnoea, and who had severely lowered blood oxygen levels at night, were at greater risk of cancer than those who didn’t suffer the sleep disorder, scientists in Greece discovered.

But, the same trend was not seen in men, they noted.

Dr Athanasia Pataka, said: “Recent studies have shown that low blood oxygen levels during the night and disrupted sleep, which are both common in obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), may play an important role in the biology of different types of cancers.

“But this area of research is very new, and the effects of gender on the link between OSA and cancer have not been studied in detail before.”

Sleep disorder linked to cancer

Dr Pataka’s team at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, looked at more than 19,000 people – recording their age, BMI, smoking status and booze consumption – all of which can increase the risk of cancer.

They then recorded how often each volunteer experienced partial or complete closure of their airways, per hour of sleep, and how many times their blood oxygen levels dropped below 90 per cent.

Cancer was more common in women with OSA than blokes with the same condition, even when all the other factors were taken into account.

The findings, published in the European Respiratory Journal, showed 388 people were diagnosed with a serious cancer – 160 women and 228 men.

The most common cancer in women was breast, while prostate cancer was most likely in men.

“This link was especially strong in the women that we analysed, and less so in the men,” Dr Pataka said.

“It suggests that severe OSA could be an indicator for cancer in women, though more research is needed to confirm these findings.”

Low oxygen levels could be to blame

The researchers didn’t specifically look at the causes of different cancers.

Dr Pakata added: “Cancer may differ between men and women because of factors such as how hormones affect tumour growth, how the different types of cancer that were more prevalent in men and women are affected by low blood oxygen levels, or how gender specific exposure to cigarette smoking may play a role.

This study adds to the growing evidence on the possible link between the effects of OSA such as low blood oxygen levels and the risk of developing cancer

Professor Anita Simonds, Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust

“The classic symptoms of OSA such as sleepiness, snoring and stopping breathing during the night time are reporter more frequently in men, but other lesser known symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, depression and morning headaches are more common in women.

“Clinicians should be more careful with evaluation their female patients for possible OSA.”

Professor Anita Simonds, from the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust and Vice President of the European Respiratory Society said: “This study adds to the growing evidence on the possible link between the effects of OSA such as low blood oxygen levels and the risk of developing cancer, and provides new data on potential gender differences.

“In this study the overall cancer prevalence was low at just 2 per cent, therefore OSA patients should not be alarmed by this research.


OBSTRUCTIVE sleep apnoea is a fairly common disorder, that affects your breathing when you sleep.

It causes the walls of the throat to relax and narrow when you’re asleep.

This can lead to interrupted sleep, which can have a big impact on quality of life.

Symptoms of OSA include:

  • loud snoring
  • noisy and laboured breathing
  • repeated short periods where breathing is interrupted by gasping or snorting

Some people also suffer night sweats and wake up in the night to pee.

During an episode, the lack of oxygen triggers your brain to pull you out of a deep sleep.

You will either wake up or experience a period of lighter sleep – so your airway can reopen and you can breathe normally.

The repeated interruption can leave you feeling exhausted.

Most sufferers have no memory of the interrupted breathing, so are often unaware they have a problem.

Go and see your GP if you think you might have OSA.

To find out more see the NHS website here.

“Clinicians should continue to be vigilant when assessing patients with possible OSA, especially among women who may present with less common symptoms.

“Both female and male OSA patients should be advised to adhere to therapy and follow a healthy lifestyle to manage their condition most effectively, including by being physically active, achieving ideal body weight, limiting alcohol use and not smoking.”

One of the limitations of the study was that researchers didn’t account for other factors that might affect cancer risk, such as exercise levels, marital status, education level and occupation.

The findings do show a link between OSA and cancer, but they don’t prove that OSA causes an increased risk of cancer – so more research is needed.