The Sleep Diagnostic Center at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) treats a variety of sleep disorders among our patients. Sleep disturbances can occur in individuals with all types of cancer.
Cancer and sleep disorders
According to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 45 percent of cancer patients experience sleep problems. Some risk factors associated with sleep disorders include:
- Witnessed episodes of breathing that had stopped during sleep
- Increased muscle mass
- Anatomic abnormalities, especially for patients who had undergone radiation therapy
- Enlarged tonsils and adenoids
- Chronic nasal congestion
- A family history of stroke, heart attack or diabetes
- High blood pressure
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing, or instances of abnormally low breathing, during sleep. Sleep apnea and other sleep problems can lead to fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, anxiety and depression. Also, recent research reveals that the inadequate supply of oxygen that characterizes sleep apnea may promote increased vascular and tumor growth in cancer patients.
What’s involved in a sleep study?
If you experience symptoms of sleep apnea or other related sleep disorders, your doctor may refer you to the Sleep Diagnostic Center for a sleep study.
During your overnight stay, a specially trained technologist will apply sensors to your body and monitor your progress continuously throughout the night. The digital monitoring devices record your level of sleep and measure brain waves, eye movements, muscle tone, heart rate, respiration, blood oxygen levels and more.
If abnormalities are detected, the technologist will apply a breathing mask to find the treatment level designed to correct your symptoms. Sometimes this cannot be done in the same night, so an additional study may be necessary.
Diagnosing sleep disorders
After your overnight stay, a board-certified sleep disorder expert will interpret the results, including the type and cause of your sleep condition. You will be evaluated for narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, hypoxemia (low oxygen) and other sleep disorders.
There are over 90 sleep disorders listed in the latest edition of the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD). Some common sleep disorders include:
- Insomnia (inability to fall asleep and stay asleep)
- Sleep apnea (sleep-disordered breathing)
- Restless legs syndrome
- Excessive sleepiness
- Disorders of the sleep-wake cycle
- Partial waking
Sleep disturbances may be caused by the effects of tumor growth, certain cancer treatments and medications (e.g., opioids), and/or treatment-related side effects (e.g., pain, shortness of breath, GI disturbances, hot flashes, anxiety, depression).
Treating sleep disorders
After the sleep study is complete, we will evaluate the results and discuss your treatment options with you. Treatment of sleep disturbances may involve a combination of pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic approaches. Sometimes treating the cancer itself and/or treatment-related side effects resolves the sleep problem. Your doctor may also adjust your medications or treatment regimen.
Your doctor may recommend that you see our mind-body medicine, naturopathic, respiratory and/or speech pathology teams to provide treatment to improve your sleep. Treatment options may include cognitive behavior therapy, stimulus control therapy, ventilation therapy, relaxation techniques, naturopathic therapies and lifestyle changes such as establishing a sleep routine, changing sleep environment/habits, managing stress, anxiety and fatigue. Our speech pathology team may incorporate evidence-informed therapies into your treatment plan, such as exercises to strengthen the muscles obstructing the airway, also known as myofunctional therapy.