Breast cancer

10 July 2009

Migraines reduce breast cancer risk

For women who suffer from migraines, here's a bit of good news: new research shows that your risk of breast cancer may be reduced by as much as 26%.


For women who suffer from migraines, here's a bit of good news: new research shows that your risk of breast cancer may be reduced by as much as 26%.

And, no matter what a woman's age or what migraine triggers a woman might be avoiding, the risk of breast cancer is still reduced, according to the study, which appears in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

"In this study, we evaluated the relationship between migraine and breast cancer risk and found that women who have migraine have a 26% lower risk of breast cancer than women without a history of migraine," said study author Dr Christopher Li, an associate member of the epidemiology program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, in Seattle.

Li said the researchers don't know exactly why women who get migraines appear to have a reduced breast cancer risk, but they suspect that hormones, particularly oestrogen, are a likely explanation.

How the study was done
"It's pretty clear that migraine, like breast cancer, is a hormonally related disease. Many triggers for migraine are also things that reduce oestrogen levels," he said. It's well-known that many breast cancers are fuelled by oestrogen.

Li and his colleagues first reported the possible connection between migraine and breast cancer risk last fall in a study of postmenopausal women. That study found a reduction in the risk of breast cancer of about 33% among women with migraine.

The current study included data from 4 568 women with breast cancer and 4 678 women without breast cancer. The age of the women ranged from 34 to 64, which was significantly younger than the group included in the last study.

The researchers found that women who had a history of migraine had a 26% reduced risk of developing breast cancer. This reduced risk didn't change even when the researchers factored in menopausal status, age at migraine diagnosis, use of prescription medication and headache trigger avoidance (which includes avoiding alcohol, hormone use or smoking).

"This research suggests that women with migraine may have a lower risk of breast cancer," said Li, who added that women with migraines should "still have the same breast cancer screenings and follow-up."

Women with migraines must check breast cancer risk
Dr Michael Kraut, director of oncology at Providence Hospital in Southfield, Mich., agreed that women with migraine still need to be vigilant about assessing their breast cancer risk. "The reduction in breast cancer risk in this study was about one-quarter, but it doesn't eliminate the risk, so women still need to be on the lookout."

Kraut said the link between migraines and breast cancer risk is likely a hormonal one. "The theory they propose here is that women who have migraines may have drops in oestrogen levels that trigger migraines.

”And women who have sustained, increased levels of oestrogen have a higher risk of breast cancer. This looks like one more piece of evidence that prolonged high levels of oestrogen are dangerous," he said. – (HealthDay News, July 2009)

Read more:
Migraines cut breast cancer risk
The Pill tied to breast cancer


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Breast cancer expert

Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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