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Known as one of the deadliest illnesses, cancer can start in almost any organ or tissue of the body, when abnormal cells grow uncontrollably and spread to other organs. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, accounting for an estimated 9.6 million deaths, or 1 in 6 deaths, in 2018. Lung, prostate, colorectal, stomach and liver cancer are the most common types of cancer in men, while breast, colorectal, lung, cervical and thyroid cancer are the most common among women. While many factors increase the risk of cancer, sleep is one of the most common.

In a conversation with Jagran English, Dr. Ashay Karpe, Founder & Director, Sunrise Oncology Centre explained how poor sleep can increase the risk of cancer in individuals and strategies to improve sleep in cancer patients.

According to Dr Karpe, sleep is a fundamental aspect of human health, yet its relationship with cancer is complex and multifaceted. As oncology continues to advance, researchers and clinicians are increasingly exploring the interplay between sleep patterns and cancer outcomes. Addressing common questions regarding this relationship can provide valuable insights into patient care and overall well-being.

Does poor sleep increase cancer risk?

Research suggests that poor sleep patterns, including inadequate duration and quality, may be associated with an increased risk of certain cancers. Disrupted sleep can lead to alterations in hormonal balance, immune function, and inflammatory responses, all of which are implicated in cancer development. However, the exact mechanisms underlying this association remain a subject of the ongoing investigation.

Can cancer treatment affect sleep?

Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery can profoundly impact sleep patterns. Side effects such as pain, nausea, anxiety, and hormonal changes can disrupt sleep architecture and lead to insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness. Oncology experts emphasise the importance of addressing these treatment-related sleep disturbances to enhance patient comfort and quality of life.

How does sleep affect cancer survival?

Emerging evidence suggests that sleep may influence cancer prognosis and survival outcomes. Poor sleep quality and insomnia have been associated with increased mortality rates among cancer patients. Sleep disturbances may compromise immune function and contribute to disease progression and treatment resistance. Therefore, optimising sleep hygiene and addressing sleep disorders may potentially improve cancer outcomes.

What strategies can improve sleep quality in cancer patients?

Oncologists often employ a multidisciplinary approach to managing sleep disturbances in cancer patients. This may include pharmacological interventions, cognitive-behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), relaxation techniques, and lifestyle modifications. Addressing underlying factors such as pain, anxiety, and depression is also crucial for promoting restful sleep during cancer treatment.

How can patients navigate sleep challenges during cancer treatment?

Educating patients about common sleep disturbances associated with cancer treatment can empower them to actively manage their sleep health. Encouraging adherence to a consistent sleep schedule, creating a conducive sleep environment, and practising relaxation techniques can help alleviate sleep difficulties. Additionally, open communication with healthcare providers enables timely intervention and personalised support for addressing individual sleep concerns.

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