According to findings recently published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, lack of sleep may be linked to more aggressive breast cancers.
In a study (the first of its kind) led by researchers from Case Western Reserve University, not only was an association between insufficient sleep and more aggressive tumors found, but a higher incidence of cancer recurrence was also associated with lack of sleep.
The research team analyzed medical records and survey responses from 412 post-menopausal breast cancer patients treated at University Hospitals Case Medical Center. All of the patients had received the Oncotype DX test, which doctors use to design a more personalized treatment plan for their patients.
The patients who were part of this study were recruited at the time of their diagnosis. They were asked about the average amount of sleep they had over the previous two years. The researchers found that women who reported six hours or less of sleep per night (on average) before their breast cancer diagnosis had higher tumor recurrence scores on the Oncotype DX test. A higher recurrence score would indicate (1) a more aggressive tumor and (2) a stronger likelihood of recurrence.
There was a strong correlation between fewer hours of sleep per night and a higher rate of cancer recurrence. This leads to the conclusion that insufficient sleep may be responsible for the tumors being more aggressive.
One interesting component of this study was that the insufficient sleep/aggressive tumor connection applied specifically to post-menopausal women diagnosed with breast cancer. However, there was no correlation between insufficient sleep and more aggressive tumors in pre-menopausal women.
There are very different mechanisms that drive pre-menopausal and post-menopausal breast cancers, and the researchers believe this is why lack of sleep had such a strong influence on one group and not the other. The research data suggests that sleep (or lack thereof) has a direct effect on the cancer pathways that are specifically involved in the development of post-menopausal breast cancer, but not pre-menopausal cancer.
Already at near epidemic proportions in America, short sleep duration is thought to lead to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. It comes as no surprise that breast cancer might be added to the list. And while itís easy for the experts to say we must focus on ways to increase the amount of sleep we get, and improve the quality of that sleep, we know it isnít that simple. Making these changes, for many of us, involves a radical reprogramming of our day-to-day routines and sometimes a complete overhaul of our lifestyle as we know it.
Now, the most important question we have to ask ourselves is: Are we worth it?
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