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Polysomnographic assessment of sleep disturbances in cancer development: a historical multicenter clinical cohort study


Background — Many cellular processes are controlled by sleep. Therefore, alterations in sleep might be expected to stress biological systems that could influence malignancy risk.

Research Question — What is the association between polysomnographic measures of sleep disturbances and incident cancer, and what is the validity of cluster analysis in identifying polysomnography phenotypes?

Study Design and Methods — We conducted a retrospective multicenter cohort study using linked clinical and provincial health administrative data on consecutive adults free of cancer at baseline with polysomnography data collected between 1994 and 2017 in four academic hospitals in Ontario, Canada. Cancer status was derived from registry records. Polysomnography phenotypes were identified by k-means cluster analysis. A combination of validation statistics and distinguishing polysomnography features was used to select clusters. Cox cause-specific regressions were used to assess the relationship between identified clusters and incident cancer.

Results — Among 29,907 individuals, 2,514 (8.4%) received a diagnosis of cancer over a median of 8.0 years (interquartile range, 4.2-13.5 years). Five clusters were identified: mild (mildly abnormal polysomnography findings), poor sleep, severe OSA or sleep fragmentation, severe desaturations, and periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS). The associations between cancer and all clusters compared with the mild cluster were significant while controlling for clinic and year of polysomnography. When additionally controlling for age and sex, the effect remained significant only for PLMS (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR], 1.26; 95% CI, 1.06-1.50) and severe desaturations (aHR, 1.32; 95% CI, 1.04-1.66). Further controlling for confounders, the effect remained significant for PLMS, but was attenuated for severe desaturations.

Interpretation — In a large cohort, we confirmed the importance of polysomnography phenotypes and highlighted the role that PLMS and oxygenation desaturation may play in cancer. Using this study’s findings, we also developed an Excel (Microsoft) spreadsheet (polysomnography cluster classifier) that can be used to validate the identified clusters on new data or to identify which cluster a patient belongs to.



Kendzerska T, Murray BJ, Gershon AS, Povitz M, McIsaac DI, Bryson GL, Talarico R, Hilton J, Malhotra A, Leung RS, Boulos MI. Chest. 2023; 164(2):517-30. Epub 2023 Mar 10.

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