New Study Links Sleep Apnea With Cancer, Stroke Risks

People with obstructive sleep apnea -- a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep -- may face a higher risk of developing and/or dying from stroke and cancer, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Sydney found that moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea is associated with a 3.7 times higher risk of stroke, a 2.5 times higher risk of cancer, a 3.4 times higher risk of dying from cancer, and a 4.2 times risk of death in general. And this is all after taking into account other factors, such as body mass index and smoking status.

However, mild sleep apnea was not associated with increased risk of cancer or stroke, researchers found.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, included 397 adults whose sleep data was collected in 1990; 4.6 percent of them had moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea, while 20.6 percent had mild obstructive sleep apnea.

Researchers followed the participants for 20 years, during which time 77 people died and 31 had strokes. There were also 125 cancer events, from which 39 people died.

Obstructive sleep apnea affects more than 18 million adults in the U.S., according to the National Sleep Foundation. Known risk factors include being overweight, having a large neck size, smoking or using alcohol, being older, and having a family history of the condition.