A new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison claims that snoring and other types of sleep disordered breathing can deprive the body of enough oxygen for hours at a time.
Scientists say that low blood oxygen levels can then trigger the development of cancerous tumors, by promoting the growth of the vessels that feed them.
Researchers in the US looked at cancer rates in more than 1,500 people, in a study of sleep problems that has been going for 22 years.
They found those with severe sleep disordered breathing were 4.8 times more likely to develop cancer than those who had no such problems.
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Lab studies have also shown that low oxygen levels promotes tumor growth in mice with skin cancer. Lack of oxygen stimulates the generation of blood vessels that nourish tumors, a process known as angiogenesis.
Dr Javier Nieto, who led the study, said: "The consistency of the evidence from the animal experiments and this new epidemiologic evidence in humans is highly compelling."
He said further research was needed to prove the link beyond doubt. The study was presented on Sunday at the annual conference of the American Thoracic Society in San Francisco and will also be published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.