An Oncology Nurse Advisor report examines the issue of sleep disturbances among patients with cancer and the role of radiation therapy.

Sleep disturbances are common among patients with medical conditions,1-9 and patients with cancer are at least twice as likely to suffer insomnia as the general population.4,5 Up to 88% of cancer patients experience sleep problems such as insomnia, hypersomnia, and sleep apnea, compared with 15% of the general population (Table 1).4,5 Such sleep disturbances can have an important impact on patients’ well-being in several domains, including memory and cognitive function, immune function, depression, anxiety, and quality of waking-life.1-5

Several factors appear associated with sleep disturbances in cancer such as circulating hormone levels, pain, tumor-associated symptoms (such as pain, fever, and shortness of breath), seizure disorders, chemotherapy agents, alcohol consumption, and use of opioids and other sedatives or hypnotics.1-5 Sleep disorders may also predate cancer diagnosis; however, few studies have focused on the effects of preexisting sleep dysfunctions on cancer and its treatment and outcomes.

The exact nature of the relationships between postdiagnosis sleep problems and associated factors, including the molecular pathways involved, in patients with cancer remain poorly understood.

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