More Than One-Third of Cardio-Oncology Patients Experience Sleep Apnea

Many patients with cancer who are being monitored for heart complications experience sleep apnea, a study found.

More than one third of patients with cancer who are being monitored for heart complications — a group referred to as cardio-oncology patients — experience sleep apnea, according to findings from a recent study presented at the American College of Cardiology (ACC) Advancing the Cardiovascular Care of the Oncology Patient Course.

In evaluating 218 cardio-oncology patients and 296 cardiology patients without a cancer diagnosis, researchers found a 39% and 54% incidence of sleep apnea, respectively, according to a news release issued by the American College of Cardiology.

Cardio-oncology, the American College of Cardiology explained, is a “multidisciplinary field that focuses on the cardiovascular management (prevention, diagnosis and treatment) of patients with cancer.”

Learn More: Sleep Strategies for Cancer Survivors

Sleep apnea, as explained by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, is “a common condition in which your breathing stops and restarts many times while you sleep. This can prevent your body from getting enough oxygen.” Obstructive sleep apnea has a prevalence of 48% to 52% among heart failure patients in the general population and is associated higher rates of cardiovascular mortality and morbidity, according to the American College of Cardiology.

A meta-analysis of 22 articles drawing on data of more than 32.1 million patients published in the journal Medicine found 46% obstructive sleep apnea positivity among patients with cancer and determined the prevalence of cancer among patients with obstructive sleep apnea to be 1.53 times higher than those who did not experience obstructive sleep apnea.

“Sleep apnea should be incorporated into current risk algorithms and a larger study is needed to evaluate the impact of sleep apnea in this high-risk population. We feel that sleep apnea assessment must be a part of routine risk assessment for patients undergoing cancer therapeutics,” said Dr. Mini K. Das, medical director of the cardio-oncology program at Baptist Health in Louisville, Kentucky and the new study’s primary author, in a statement included in the news release from the American College of Cardiology.

Learn More: Sleep An Unmet Need in Patients, Survivors and Caregivers

Among the cardio-oncology cohort, the prevalence of sleep apnea, according to the news release, was equal to or greater than other traditional risk factors, with the status and severity of sleep apnea associated with left ventricular strain — which, in turn, is commonly linked to adverse cardiovascular events.

According to the National Cancer Institute, as many as half of people with cancer experience problems sleeping. The institute notes that sleep apnea — the symptoms of which can include loud or abnormal snoring, daytime sleepiness, irritability and depression — is one of the common conditions that doctors will check for when caring for an older patient with cancer who is having trouble sleeping.

Patients who undergo surgery on their jaw are at risk for potentially developing sleep apnea, according to the National Cancer Institute, which stated that plastic surgery to rebuild the patient’s jaw could potentially help prevent sleep apnea.

“Identifying these individuals [who are at risk for sleep apnea] may allow early intervention in a risk factor clearly associated with heart failure now recognized to affect cancer therapy and survivorship,” Das said in the news release.

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