Study leader Dr. Javier Nieto of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and colleagues found the study participants with severe sleep disordered breathing were almost five times more likely to die of cancer than those not affected by the problem, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The researchers said the link may be due to breathing problems causing an inadequate supply of oxygen -- intermittent hypoxia, or oxygen starvation -- promoted tumor growth in mice with skin cancer.
Lack of oxygen might stimulate the generation of blood vessels that nourish tumors -- a process known as angiogenesis, the researchers said.
Scientists looked at 22 years of data from studies involving sleep problems of 1,522 people sleep problems.
People with mild sleep disordered breathing were just 0.1 times more likely to die from cancer than those without the problem, but those with moderate sleep disordered breathing doubled the chances of cancer death, while severe sleep disordered breathing increased the risk 4.8 times, the study said.
The findings were presented at the American Thoracic Society conference in San Francisco and are scheduled to be published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.