Sleep apnea is the sleep stealing disorder that affects 38 million Americans; malignant cutaneous melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer. While the two disorders may seem unrelated, researchers in Spain are now warning that sleep apnea may increase the danger of this already frightening cancer. Unfortunately, many who suffer from sleep apnea are unaware why they sleep so poorly and feel exhausted during the day. It is critical, if you are a melanoma patient, to consult a physician for sleep-related difficulties.
Could you have sleep apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea, the most frequently occurring type, results from a relaxation of the throat muscles that allows the airway to close. Because of this, a person's oxygen level drops, alerting the brain to wake him/her briefly with a snort or gasp that reopens the airway. This can happen five to thirty times an hour, leaving one exhausted the next day from both repeated awakenings and inconsistent oxygen supply to the blood. Because by its very nature this disorder manifests itself while one is asleep, many people do not realize they are affected. It is often a spouse or other family member who can no longer tolerate the loud snoring--and other sounds that accompany interrupted breathing--and alerts the patient to the problem.
Do you have malignant melanoma?
Cutaneous melanoma accounts for only four percent of all skin cancers, but because of its rapid spread through the body it accounts for a whopping 80% of skin cancer deaths. In fact, 9.000 people die from this disease every year--one person each hour. The distinguishing feature of this type of skin cancer is the appearance of a new growth on the skin--a mark or mole--that changes in size, shape, or appearance. Consider the ABCDE guidelines for these types of spots:
A (Asymmetry): one side of the mark or mole looks different than the other
B (Border): the outer edges of the mole are ragged, blurry, or irregular
C (Color): the spot is not one consistent color, but has patches of brown, black, pink, white, or blue
D (Diameter): the mark is more than ¼ inch (6 millimeters) across
E (Evolving): the spot changes shape, size, or color
If you have been diagnosed with malignant cutaneous melanoma, and you suspect you might have sleep apnea, your health picture may be even more risky than you think.
The sleep disorder/skin cancer connection
Sleep apnea and skin cancer share a deep and deadly fellowship: sleep apnea allows malignant cutaneous melanoma to spread even more rapidly than it already is known to do. A team of Spanish researchers from 24 teaching hospitals studied the sleep habits of 412 melanoma patients. Those with sleep apnea were also those in whom the cancer was most aggressive. In fact, another study found that the more severe the sleep apnea, the more aggressive the cancer. These physicians propose that low levels of oxygen in the blood of apnea patients allow the cancer to spread more rapidly than in patients who maintain healthy oxygen levels during sleep. They also urge melanoma patients to seek immediate medical evaluation if sleep problems are present.
Increasing oxygen levels essential
The best treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine, which helps the body maintain consistent oxygen levels all night long. This vital piece of health care equipment is available to you only after a sleep study and physician's consultation confirm you have sleep apnea. CPAP machines are often covered, at least in part, by private insurance. Many types of CPAP machines are available; your doctor can help you choose the one appropriate for your needs.
If you suspect you might have sleep apnea, consult a physician right away. Increasing your oxygen level during sleep will not only improve your overall health; it may specifically slow the growth of your melanoma.