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Blog Feature

By: Kevin Asp on June 3rd, 2016

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Study Q & A: Severe, Untreated Sleep Apnea Linked to Aggressive Melanoma

Sleep Disorders

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Is Severe, Untreated Sleep Apnea Linked to Aggressive Melanoma?

We spoke to Membership and Communications Committee member Lisa Endee, B.S., RRT-SDS, RPSGT and Clinical Assistant Professor, Polysomnographic Technology at Stony Brook University about an article and recent study published by Health.com.

Here are four questions we wanted to ask her:

EndeeLisa_3.png 1. A recent study found that sleep is key to immune function and health, and that this is especially true for patients battling melanoma. Does this study’s findings surprise you at all?

Although preliminary, this study’s findings remind us of the strong influence that sleep has on wellness and overall health. We have come a long way from the traditional belief that sleep was a passive process. We now understand that many processes take place while we are sleeping, including growth and development, physical repair, and learning and memory consolidation.  An additional benefit of sleep is its role in strengthening immunity and protecting against disease. There have been various studies that have documented the association of healthy sleep and protection against infectious disease, as well as the role of sleep disturbance in increasing risk. So it is not surprising to me that we continue to uncover additional benefits of healthy sleep on the body’s ability to protect and repair itself from disease, in this case in patients battling cancer.

2. This study also found that severe, untreated cases of sleep apnea — interruptions in nighttime breathing — are linked with more aggressive melanomas.  What are your thoughts on this?

This study showed a relationship between more severe cases of apnea and the more aggressive cases of melanoma. Over the last decade or so, there has been a lot of research supporting the association of sleep disorders with risk of various illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, depression, and infectious disease. Many of these disorders develop over time from frequent increases in sympathetic and adrenergic activity that occurs with recurrent arousals from sleep. This same mechanism can also be responsible for increasing the risk for inflammatory disorders such as cancer.

Furthermore, if cancer is already present, severe apnea, frequent arousals from sleep, and the resulting adrenergic activation may reduce the ability of the body to protect against tumor growth.

3. What I found interesting about the article was this particular finding: While it’s impossible from this study to say that sleep apnea causes melanoma to become more aggressive, the researchers found that apnea was more common and severe for patients diagnosed with the most aggressive cancers.

The study reminds us that sleep, just like physical activity and proper nutrition, can significantly impact one’s overall health and wellbeing. Sleeping encompasses one-third of our lives, yet millions of people go undiagnosed with various sleep disorders. Americans in particular seem to underappreciate the value of sleep, and our new age of digital media has not improved that attitude. Particularly with patients that are fighting cancer, it seems elementary that getting sufficient good quality sleep would be critical to improved outcomes. I certainly agree that all physicians should be asking patients about their sleep and should be cognizant of possible disorders, especially sleep related breathing disorders, and how they can impact recovery.

 4. What is the impact of this study on how sleep technologists interact with patients? Is there any impact at all?

Sleep technologists are the champions of sleep health education. As a profession we strive to improve public knowledge about how sufficient sleep can improve health, quality of life, safety, and overall wellbeing. We share this knowledge routinely and many of us with passion and urgency. This study just adds to our tool kit in helping to educate about the deleterious consequences of poor sleep and the importance of recognizing and treating sleep disorders.

Many AAST Membership and Communications Committee members will be at the annual meeting and we hope to see you there!

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