Lack of Sleep is a New Risk Factor of Colon Cancer

In a ground-breaking study, researchers from University Hospitals  Case Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have found that individuals who average less than six hours of sleep a night are 50% more like to increase their risk of  colorectal adenomas than those individuals who get at least seven hours of sleep a night. Adenomas are precursors to cancer tumors, and if left untreated, they turn malignant.

According to Dr. Li Li, the study’s principal investigator, this is the first study to report the association between sleep duration and colorectal adenomas. “A short amount of sleep can now be viewed as a new risk factor for the development of colon cancer,” Dr. Li explained.

Patients were surveyed by phone prior to their scheduled colonoscopies at UH Medical Center.  They were asked not only about their demographics, but also questions for the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). The PSQI obtains information about the patient’s quality of sleep during the past month, hours of sleep, and frequency of troubling sleep.

Three hundred and thirty eight of the 1,240 patients surveyed were diagnosed with colorectal adenomas. The patients with adenomas were generally found to sleep less than six hours per night.  The association between the amount of sleep and adenomas remained even when adjusted for smoking, obesity, and family history.

Dr. Li stated that the magnitude of the increase in risk due to less sleep is comparable to the risk associated with having a parent or sibling with colon cancer. “Short sleep duration is a public health hazard leading not only to obesity, diabetes and coronary heart disease, but also, as we now have shown in this study, colon adenomas,” he said. “Effective intervention to increase duration of sleep and improve quality of sleep could be an under-appreciated avenue for prevention of colorectal cancer.”

Dr. Li is still evaluating why lack of sleep may lead to colon cancer.  One of his theories is that fewer hours of sleep leads to a smaller melatonin production.

This article may be found at Science Daily and is published in the February 15, 2011 issue of the journal Cancer.

If you find yourself getting less than seven hours of sleep a night due to sleep apnea and snoring, call me, Dr. James Stewart in Livonia, MI, at (734)425-4400, to schedule a consultation. I treat sleep apnea and snoring with non-surgical therapy, including oral appliances and combination therapy with CPAP.