Sleep apnea linked to cancer

Study Reveals Sleep Apnea Increases Cancer Risks

Sleep apnea is a common problem in America: nearly 30 million Americans have some form of sleep apnea or gaps in breathing while sleeping.

It’s already well established that sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, hypertension, stroke, depression and heart disease.

Now researchers have discovered a link between sleep apnea and cancer. In fact, sleep apnea sufferers may be up to 5 times more likely to die from cancer of any kind. True.

Read: What is Sleep Apnea

Dr. Javier Nieto, chair of the Department of Population Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, studied more than 1,500 people and 22 years of data from the Wisconsin Sleep Study and identified the link between apnea and cancer.

“Clearly, there is a correlation, and we are a long way from proving that sleep apnea causes cancer or contributes to its growth,” says Nieto, an expert in sleep epidemiology. “But animal studies have shown that the intermittent hypoxia (an inadequate supply of oxygen) that characterizes sleep apnea promotes angiogenesis-increased vascular growth – and tumor growth. Our results suggest that SDB is also associated with an increased risk of cancer mortality in humans.”

Simple translation: people with severe sleep apnea tend to have less oxygen in their systems and grow more blood vessels that feed all cells–including cancerous cells.

The Wisconsin researchers discovered that people with severe sleep-disordered breathing died of cancer at a rate 4.8 times higher than people with no sleep-breathing problems.

While additional studies are needed to replicate the study results, Dr. Nieto states, “Sleep apena is a serious problem that needs to be treated if you have it and this [information] is one more reason to worry about it.”

Watch ABC News Report about Cancer and Sleep Apnea

Learn More about Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is indeed a serious condition and one that deserves serious attention. Our Ear, Nose and Throat doctors in Salt Lake City and Draper, Utah regularly diagnose and treat sleep apnea. Our advice is that if you or a sleeping partner recognize the symptoms of sleep apnea, schedule an appointment with an ENT doctor to ensure you receive the care you need.

There are also procedures and therapies that can cure or at least help you manage the symptoms of sleep apena. One of the most common sleep apnea treatments is the use of a Nasal CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), which is essentially a mask that fits over your nose and blows in air to keep the airway tissues open while you sleep.

Another recent development is the use of da Vinci robotic surgery to help cure sleep apnea. Our own Dr. Pramod Sharma is one of few Utah sleep apnea doctors who perform the procedure that can eliminate sleep apnea completely–without visible scarring.

Read: Robotic Surgery Can Help Cure Sleep Apnea

Kyle Hansen cancer survivor

Success Story: da Vinci Robotic Surgery Helps Utah Man Beat Throat Cancer

Imagine you’re a 21-year-old college student and engaged to be married. You’re in the prime of your life and ready for the next adventure.

Now imagine you’re that same 21-year-old student, but you’ve just been diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of throat cancer.

This is the diagnosis Kyle Hansen heard following routine removal of a polyp in his throat. How do you process this sudden and unexpected information?

In Kyle’s case, this bioengineering major attacked the problem by expanding his understanding and knowledge of treatment options. Just as important, he committed to positively and optimistically attacking this life-changing challenge.

One of the first facts Kyle discovered is that synovial sarcoma is difficult to treat and responds poorly to radiation therapy. As a result, the most common treatment for this cancer is an open surgical procedure where doctors remove the cancer from the throat.

The treatment often proves successful yet it features one significant drawback: the surgeon is forced to perform a total laryngectomy. Put simply, the patient often loses his or her voice box in the process.

Now imagine you’re 21-years-old and you’ve lost the ability to speak–for the rest of your life.

“If I chose the open procedure I would have required a tracheotomy—the hole in the throat most often seen in former smokers on TV commercials,” said Hansen. “I would have had to find other means of speech. That would have been extremely challenging because speech is so important in being able to communicate with others.”

Da Vinci Robotic Surgery Offers Voice-Saving Outcome

Fortunately for Hansen, another viable option offered the promise of successfully removing the cancer while allowing him to maintain his ability to speak normally.

The procedure relied on the da Vinci robotic surgery system and Hansen was referred to a local Salt Lake City ear, nose and throat doctor, Dr. Pramod Sharma, who is trained to operate the complex system and perform the surgery.

“The da Vinci Surgical System enables surgeons to perform the minimally invasive transoral (throat) procedure with great precision and accuracy,” said Dr. Sharma who is a partner with the Ear, Nose and Throat Center of Salt Lake City. “Surgeons are able to isolate and remove cancerous tissue with minimal impact to the patient.”

Not surprisingly, Hansen opted for the da Vinci surgical procedure since it offered the greatest likelihood of being able to preserve his voice box and ability to speak.

“The da Vinci robotic procedure was definitely the most appealing option because it allowed me to keep my voice,” Hansen continued. “For me, that shred of hope and the chance to have a normal life post-surgery was completely worth any risks.”

Those risks included the fact that due to the spread of cancer, surgeons are sometimes forced to remove the voice box during surgery–even when using the da Vinci system.

“I was told that if Dr. Sharma could not remove all the cancerous tissue, there would still be a chance that I would need to have an open procedure during the surgery,” Hansen recalled. “So I went into surgery without knowing the outcome and had to place my faith and confidence in Dr. Sharma. Luckily, the da Vinci system allowed him to remove the necessary tissue to feel comfortable that open throat surgery was not necessary.”

Cancer-Free One Year Later

The procedure was effective and Hansen emerged from the hospital cancer-free 28 days after surgery.

He returned to the University of Utah during the fall and continues his studies today. His voice has taken about one year to fully recover.

“In terms of strength and loudness, my voice is about 90-percent of its pre-surgery levels,” Hansen said in a raspy but clear voice. “There is a little more texture to my voice, but it basically sounds the same as it did before surgery.”

In May 2012, Hansen is celebrating his first year of recovery without recurrence of cancer symptoms. If he can reach five years without the cancer reappearing, he will be considered a full cancer survivor.

Hansen Celebrates and Enjoys Each Day as a Gift

“My wife and I are expecting our first child this summer and I plan to be a father and a husband, no different than I was before,” Hansen said. “I was able to resume school at the University of Utah the fall after the surgery where I’m studying bioengineering and hope to one day design medical devices that can help treat people with illnesses.”

It’s a positive success story and testament to the way new treatments and medical devices like the da Vinci Surgical System are saving lives and providing a higher quality of life for cancer patients.

About Dr. Sharma

Dr. Pramod Sharma is an ear, nose and throat doctor in Salt Lake City who practices at the Ear, Nose and Throat Center offices in Salt Lake City and Draper, Utah. Dr. Sharma received his MD from the State University of New York at Buffalo and completed a residency in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the University of Cincinnati. He obtained specialized training at the Ohio State University with a Head and Neck Surgical Oncology fellowship. He is one of a small number of ENT doctors in Utah trained to use the da Vinci robotic surgery system.

Dr. Pramod K Sharma
Dr. Pramod K Sharma of the Ear, Nose and Throat Center of Salt Lake City, Utah

Read more: da Vinci Head and Neck Cancer Surgery Success Stories

man sleeping soundly after robotic sleep apnea surgery

Robotic Surgery for Sleep Apnea

Quick. Hold your breath for 10 seconds. Now breathe in. Hold your breath again for 20 seconds. Now breathe in. Repeat all night long.

That’s what it’s like for people with sleep apnea. Each night they go to sleep and often have no idea that they stop breathing multiple times each hour or, in really bad cases, multiple times each minute.

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder and a potentially life-threatening condition. Some physicians even refer to sleep apnea as the “silent killer.” Yet many people with sleep apnea are unaware they actually have sleep apnea. And that can lead to ongoing problems including elevated blood pressure, increased risk for stroke, headaches, chronic feelings of sleepiness, dizziness and irritability.

Fortunately, robotic surgery can help cure sleep apnea. Best of all, robotic sleep apnea surgery eliminates the need for a tracheotomy, which leaves a visible scar on the patient’s neck.

Ear, Nose and Throat Center Exclusively Offers Robotic Sleep Apnea Surgery

Recognizing the need for sleep apnea solutions, the Ear, Nose and Throat Center embraced robotic surgery and are the first to offer da Vinci robotic sleep apnea surgery for our patients in Utah and surrounding states. The robotic surgery is a proven approach that can actually cure sleep apnea and allow patients to breathe easily for the first time in years.

“The da Vinci Robotic Surgery system allows me to perform sleep apnea surgery with a great level of precision,” says Dr. Pramod Sharma, an ENT doctor with the Ear, Nose and Throat Center of Salt Lake City. “We can precisely repair throat tissue that may cause obstructive sleep apnea and eliminate sleep apnea completely without visible scarring.”

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissue in the throat collapses during sleep and constricts the flow of air through the throat. In other words, sleep apnea sufferers are literally choking themselves each night. As a result, breathing starts and stops all night long.

“We’ve seen patients who stop breathing nearly once or twice every minute,” continues Dr. Sharma, “While others may sleep soundly for a few hours, then stop breathing for up to a minute or longer.”

Watch Video about Robotic Sleep Apnea Surgery

Contact the Ear, Nose and Throat Center for Sleep Apnea Diagnosis

Diagnosing sleep apnea is the first step. If you or a sleeping partner suspects you may have sleep apnea symptoms, we encourage you to visit an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor to diagnose sleep apnea. Typically, diagnosis begins with an overnight sleep study where your sleeping patterns are closely monitored and observed. In many cases, it only takes a few minutes of sleep to recognize sleep apnea.

Read: How the ENT Center Diagnoses Sleep Apnea

Once your diagnosis is complete, we’ll explore your options, which may initially include a nighttime breathing machine known as a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine or CPAP. This requires patients to wear a facemask that is connected to a tube and device that pumps air into your nose and mouth. We may also explore robotic sleep apnea surgery, if necessary.

Read: How the ENT Center Treats Sleep Apnea

Most important, understand that sleep apnea is a serious condition but a condition that can be cured through robotic surgery or other methods.