Does obstructive sleep apnea increase the risk of cancer and cancer mortality in combined community-based cohorts?

Jenny Theorell-Haglöw, Xingwu Zhou, Gary Wittert, Robert Adams, Sarah Appleton, Amy Reynolds, Mirjam Ljunggren, Nathaniel Marshall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) has been linked to cancer in several clinical and community-based cohorts. The effect in community-based studies free of clinical referral bias needs to be replicated. In this observational prospective cohort study, we pooled data from three community-based prospective cohorts (Uppsala Sleep and Health in Men cohort [UMEN]; Sleep and health in women [SHE]; Men Androgen Inflammation Lifestyle Environment and Stress Cohort [MAILES]; n Total  = 1467). All cohorts had objective data on obstructive sleep apnea and registry linkage data on cancer and cancer mortality. Analyses for different obstructive sleep apnea measures (apnea-hypopnea index [AHI], oxygen desaturation index [ODI], and minimal saturation) as risk factors for cancer incidence (all cancers) were performed using Cox proportional hazards models (follow-up 5-16 years). We did not find an overall increased risk of cancer after adjustment for age, sex, and BMI (HR AHI [95% CI] = 1.00 [0.98; 1.01] and HR ODI [95% CI] = 0.99 [0.97; 1.01]). Stratifying by daytime sleepiness did not influence the association. Cancer mortality was not significantly associated with obstructive sleep apnea. Taken together, we did not observe an overall increased risk of cancer or cancer mortality in relation to obstructive sleep apnea, however, our confidence limits remain wide for important diagnostic categories of sleep apnea severity. The relationship between obstructive sleep apnea and cancer needs further investigation in a comprehensive multi-cohort approach with greater statistical precision. For future studies we may need to find and then combine every community-based cohort study that can provide a definitive answer to the question on the risk of cancer from obstructive sleep apnea in the general population.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14089
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Sleep Research
Early online date21 Nov 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Nov 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • cancer
  • obstructive sleep apnea
  • population-based
  • registry


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