Researchers in Spain found that skin cancer patients with more severe sleep apnoea had faster melanoma growth rates.
The findings will be presented on Wednesday at the European Respiratory Society Annual Congress 2013 in Barcelona.
Studies in mice have suggested that low oxygen levels in the blood, which are often present in the respiratory disorder, may encourage tumour growth. This study is the first to investigate the link in humans.
Researchers investigated 56 patients with cutaneous malignant melanoma. They measured the growth of melanoma tumours and three measures of sleep apnoea severity.
Six out of 10 patients (60.7%) had sleep apnoea and one in seven (14.3%) had severe disorder. After adjusting for other factors, researchers found tumour growth rates and depth of invasion increased as oxygen desaturation levels rose.
Lead author Dr Francisco Campos-Rodriguez from the Hospital de Valme in Seville, Spain said if the results were confirmed in a larger study, 'this would have important clinical implications, particularly as sleep apnoea can be easily treated and this could open up new therapeutic possibilities for people with both conditions'.