05/09/2012 08:57 BST | Updated 05/09/2012 10:31 BST

Study Links Sleep Apnoea With Increased Risk Of Cancer Death

Sleep apnoea has been associated with increased cancer mortality in a new study.

Over 5,600 patients from seven different sleep clinics in Spain were analysed to investigate whether the disruptive sleep condition, causing sufferers to stop breathing for short periods, could signal wider health concerns.

People who spent more than 14% of their sleep time with low levels of oxygen saturation caused airway blockage, had approximately double the relative risk of death due to cancer, than people without the condition.

The results showed that this association was even higher in men and younger people.

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Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a condition that causes interrupted breathing during sleep, according to NHS Choices, and leads to low levels of oxygen in the blood (less than 90%).

People with sleep apnoea can be treated using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine that generates a stream of air to keep the upper airways open during sleep.

In the study, patients who were not using this device consistently had an increased relative risk of death from cancer.

Study author Dr Miguel Angel Martinez-Garcia from La Fe University Hospital in Valencia, Spain, said in a statement: "We found a significant increase in the relative risk of dying from cancer in people with sleep apnoea.

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"This adds to evidence that found for the first time a link between cancer and sleep apnoea mortality. Our research has only found an association between these disorders but this does not mean that sleep apnoea causes cancer.

"We hope the findings of our studies will encourage people to get their sleep apnoea diagnosed and treated early to help maintain a good quality of life."

The research was presented at the European Respiratory Society's (ERS) Annual Congress in Vienna.