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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : features : vitality April 24, 2015

9/15/2013 6:00:00 AM
Untreated sleep apnea can exacerbate cancer
Courier Columnist

Dear Dr. Rosenberg,

I read online that sleep apnea can make cancer worse. This particular article was about melanomas. Is this true? My husband has sleep apnea and refuses to wear his CPAP or seek an alternative treatment.

A: Yes, it would appear so. This is at least the third study published in the past year that shows either an increased incidence of cancer or an increased death rate due to cancer in untreated sleep apnea. In this study, the spread of melanoma was accelerated in patients with untreated sleep apnea. The theory is that the low oxygen as a result of the airway obstruction causes the development of new blood vessels that feed the cancer and increase its growth rate.

Dear Dr. Rosenberg,

My husband has had erectile dysfunction for several years and takes Viagra regularly. His testosterone level comes back normal from his checkup. I notice that when he is asleep he snores and appears to stop breathing. He never mentioned this to his doctor. Should he? I have heard this can cause sexual problems in men.

A: Yes, definitely. More than 50 percent of men with severe sleep apnea suffer from ED. The low oxygen levels that result from the apneas have a negative effect on the ability of blood vessels to dilate. This causes problems with blood supply to the penis and is probably the root cause. The good news is that if the sleep apnea is treated, a majority of men will be able to obtain an erection without medication.

Dear Dr. Rosenberg,

I have been having very bothersome hot flashes since I started going through menopause. It is really affecting my sleep but I don't want to take medications. Any ideas?

A: Yes: Exercise! Believe it or not, a recent study showed that women with "bothersome hot flashes" who exercised slept much better than women who did not. In fact, it came out to eight times better in the study. So there is another alternative to hormone replacement therapy and other medications.

Dear Dr. Rosenberg,

My husband is a long-haul truck driver. He has confided in me recently that he is having some problems staying awake while driving. I am very worried. Can you make any suggestions?

A: Yes. First of all, make sure he is getting at least seven hours of sleep the night or day before he drives. Second, a one- to two-hour nap before his shift can be helpful. Third, a 20- to 30-minute nap during his shift is an excellent antidote to sleepiness. Finally, if this continues, take him to your doctor. Sleep apnea and other medical conditions such as an underactive thyroid may be the cause.

Dr. Robert Rosenberg, board-certified sleep medicine specialist, will answer readers' questions by incorporating them in future columns. Contact him through the form at or via mail at the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley, 3259 N. Windsong Drive, Prescott Valley, AZ 86314.

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