Does OSA Increase Risk for Cancer? A Large Historical Sleep Clinic Cohort Study

Ross J. Marriott, Bhajan Singh, Nigel McArdle, Ellie Darcey, Stuart King, Daniela Bond-Smith, Ayesha Reynor, William Noffsinger, Kim Ward, Sutapa Mukherjee, David R. Hillman, Gemma Cadby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The relationship between OSA and cancer is unclear. 

Research Question: What is the association between OSA and cancer prevalence and incidence in a large Western Australian sleep clinic cohort (N = 20,289)? Study Design and Methods: OSA severity was defined by apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) and nocturnal hypoxemia (duration and percentage at oxygen saturation < 90%) measured by in-laboratory polysomnogram. Measures of potential confounding included age, sex, BMI, smoking status, socioeconomic status, and BP. Outcomes were determined from the Western Australian cancer and death registries. Analyses were confined within periods using consistent AHI scoring criteria: January 1, 1989, to July 31, 2002 (American Sleep Disorders Association criteria), and August 1, 2002, to June 30, 2013 (Chicago criteria). We examined associations of AHI and nocturnal hypoxemia with cancer prevalence using logistic regression and cancer incidence using Cox regression analyses. Results: Cancer prevalence at baseline was 329 of 10,561 in the American Sleep Disorders Association period and 633 of 9,728 in the Chicago period. Nocturnal hypoxemia but not AHI was independently associated with prevalent cancer following adjustment for participant age, sex, BMI, smoking status, socioeconomic status, and BP. Of those without prevalent cancer, cancer was diagnosed in 1,950 of 10,232 (American Sleep Disorders Association) and 623 of 9,095 (Chicago) participants over a median follow-up of 11.2 years. Compared with the reference category (no OSA, AHI < 5 events per hour), univariable models estimated higher hazard ratios for cancer incidence for mild (AHI 5-15 events per hour), moderate (AHI 15.1-30 events per hour), and severe (AHI > 30 events per hour) OSA. Multivariable analyses consistently revealed associations between age and, in some cases, sex, BMI, and smoking status, with cancer incidence. After adjusting for confounders, multivariable models showed no independent association between OSA severity and increased cancer incidence. Interpretation: Nocturnal hypoxemia is independently associated with prevalent cancer. OSA severity is associated with incident cancer, although this association seems secondary to other risk factors for cancer development. OSA is not an independent risk factor for cancer incidence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1042-1056
Number of pages15
Issue number4
Early online date5 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023


  • cancer
  • incidence
  • prevalence
  • sleep apnea


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