Where do sleep and breathing cross paths? That’s a focus of MD Anderson’s Sleep Center and Lab, which opened in 2006.
“A lot has to do with sleep apnea, or sleep-disordered breathing, which is absence of breathing during sleep,” says Diwakar (Dave) Balachandran, M.D., associate professor in the department and section chief of Sleep Medicine. “That’s 80% of what we treat, and across the country it’s the ailment that has a significant impact on morbidity and mortality. It also has an effective treatment.”
“Poor quality sleep causes a tremendous burden on our patients,” Balachandran says. “It can affect their ability to comply with treatment, increase fatigue and lower quality of life.
“It is under-diagnosed, under-addressed and under-treated, mainly because people don’t understand its appearance. MD Anderson is ahead of other cancer centers in addressing this.”
In addition, research shows that poor quality sleep increases pain awareness by lowering a person’s pain threshold.
In the Sleep Lab, Balachandran and his colleagues use polysomnography, which measures sleep objectively, rather than using subjective patient self-reporting. The electrical signals it puts out evaluate breathing, abnormal movements and quality of sleep.
It is being used in two research protocols to study the effect of certain drugs for hyperthyroidism and lymphoma on a patient’s sleep.
"Sleep problems impact a large majority of patients with cancer who receive chemotherapy. Researchers found that more than three-quarters of patients have insomnia and other sleep disorders — nearly three times the rate found in the general population. Patients reporting insomnia were also significantly more likely to report depression and fatigue than those without insomnia."
— "Clinical Cancer Advances 2010," Journal of Clinical Oncology, Dec. 20, 2010