Prostate cancer could be linked to difficulty sleeping, according to a new study. Experts from the Central Taiwan University of Science and Technology analysed more than 80,000 patients – half of which had been diagnosed with a sleep disorder between 2000 and 2010. The night-time ailments included insomnia, excessive tiredness, nightmares, sleepwalking, sleep apnoea and so-called ‘circadian rhythm sleep disorders’ – where patients struggle to sleep and to wake up for work in the morning. Subjects had an average age of 48 years old.
But in patients aged 65 or over, those with a sleep disorder had a ‘1.35-fold increased risk of prostate cancer’ compared to those who slept soundly.
Meanwhile, the overall incidence of prostate cancer for all ages was 51 per cent greater in those who had a sleep disorder compared with those who did not.
Lead author Wei-Sheng Chung said: “We found that patients with sleep disorders are associated with increased prostate cancer risk, which increases with age. Therefore, appropriately managing sleep problems is a crucial healthcare concern, particularly as the number of people with sleep disorders continues to increase.”
The study also showed those in “white collar” jobs, and with problems sleeping, were particularly prone to prostate cancer.
And while the link between prostate cancer and nocturnal annoyances “remains unclear”, Dr Chung suspects it might be an issue with the hormone melatonin – which regulates sleep-wake cycles and which can also help ward-off tumours.
Dr Chung says men with reported sleep problems had less evidence of melatonin in their morning urine levels and adds: “Melatonin has been observed to inhibit cancer development and growth in both in vitro and in vivo experimental models.”
A lack of sleep can lead to “immune suppression” and “activate cancer-stimulatory cytokines” – aka cell proteins.
Those who toss and turn might also be more likely to have “unhealthy habits”, too, increasing their cancer risk further.
Dr Chung adds: “Patients with sleep disorders are associated with unhealthy habits including excessive alcohol consumption and smoking, which are related to prostate cancer risk.”
The research, published this month in the journal BMC Cancer, has been welcomed by leading prostate cancer specialist and oncologist Dr Jiri Kubes, medical director of the Proton Therapy Center in Prague, Czech Republic.
Dr Kubes and his team have treated dozens of UK patients – and says incidents are increasing year on year.
He explains: “Despite substantial research into the problem, the risk factors for prostate cancer have still not been conclusively identified. In short, we don’t yet know how to prevent prostate cancer. Which is why studies like this are valuable in furthering our understanding.
“A lack of sleep is associated with all sorts of health risks, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes. So it’s not surprising that it could also be linked with prostate cancer, too – a disease which kills 11,000 men in the UK each year.”
The NHS suggests we need “around 8 hours of good-quality sleep a night to function properly” – and getting enough of it can also boost sex drive, fertility and mental wellbeing.
Dr Kubes and his Proton Therapy Center team – who treat prostate cancer patients with a pioneering, highly accurate form of radiotherapy – have repeated calls for a national prostate cancer screening programme.
He adds: “In the UK alone, incidence of prostate cancer is expected to rise 12 per cent by 2035. But there is still no national screening programme.
“The closest thing we have to one is the Prostate Specific Antigen, or PSA, test, which analyses a patient’s blood for a certain protein linked with the disease.
“Yet the NHS’s ‘informed choice programme’ is sceptical about the benefits of PSA testing and only encourages questions from healthy men over 50.
“Two recent studies from the US have provided evidence that screening can actually reduce deaths from prostate cancer by as much as 27 to 32 per cent.
“And, personally, while I think that while the PSA test has faults, and can sometimes give false-positive readings, it’s currently the only tool we have.”
Others have backed calls for PSA testing, too.
Actor Stephen Fry, 61, underwent surgery on for his prostate cancer in February last year.
He said at the time: “I know it’s an old cliche but you don’t think it’s going to happen to you.
“I generally felt my life was saved by this early intervention, so I would urge any of you men of a certain age to get your PSA levels checked.”
Because prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK it’s important to recognising all the symptoms. One sign of the potentially deadly disease is could be in the colour of your pee.