An illustration of a pair of lungs affected by lung cancer.

How does sleep apnea contribute to lung cancer cells? Find out why you should be wary of this disorder.

By now, most people know that cancer can affect almost any part of the body. Even worse, this disease affected at least 14.1 million people globally in 2012. With the severity of this disease, doctors and scientists are in a desperate search for any knowledge that might lead them to a cure.

One particular variation of cancer, lung cancer, is ranked 3rd among the CDC’s “2013 Top Ten Cancers” list. What potential factors affect this disease? According to a recent study, it might be sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea and Lung Cancer

Now, this study doesn’t name sleep apnea as the cause of lung cancer. However, it suggests that the disorder helps the disease spread cancer cells. This happens because people do not receive enough oxygen during sleep, causing hypoxia.

Hypoxia is a condition that occurs when the bodies tissues do not receive the right amount of oxygen. In some cases, hypoxia can cause nausea, lightheadedness, hallucinations, severe headaches, tachycardia, and pulmonary hypertension. That lack of oxygen also holds the potential to increase the growth of tumors.

The scientists came to this conclusion by testing two groups of mice with lung cancer tumors. One group experience normal breathing patterns. On the other hand, the other group experienced sleep apnea through the introduction of intermittent hypoxia, which is a therapy used to induced hypoxia. With these two groups, the scientists were able to see if sleep apnea truly affected lung cancer cells.

Hypoxia and sleep apnea appear to release exosomes, cell-derived vesicles which promote cell growth. Normally, these vesicles would be a good thing, as they also move proteins, lipids, mRNAs, and miRNAs from cell to cell.

However, lead investigator of the study, David Gozal, states “Hypoxia can increase exosomal release and selectively modify exosome contents such as to enhance tumor proliferation and angiogenesis. We found the overall concentrations of plasma-isolated exosomes in IH-exposed mice were significantly increased.”

Researchers are interested in exosomes and their greater role in cancer. This study only brings up more questions in the fight against cancer, but it does answer one. It shows that sleep apnea plays a part in making lung cancer worse.