One Less Headache

November 13th, 2008 | Sources: Cancer Epi. Bio. & Prev., MedPageToday


Female migraineurs are less likely to get breast cancer, according to the results of a study published in this month’s Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

In the study, Robert W. Mathes and colleagues at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center combined information from 2 retrospective, case-control studies involving women between the ages of 55 and 79.

The scientists found that women who gave a history of migraine headaches were one-third less likely to develop breast cancer. The association was limited to hormone receptor-positive tumors. It was not affected by migraine therapy or by the age when migraine headaches began.

The association held for both estrogen- and progesterone-receptor positive tumors, and for the two most common kinds of breast cancer, which are ductal carcinoma and lobular carcinoma.

The scientists speculate that estrogen is the cause of the seemingly odd association.

In women, they write, migraine headaches can be triggered by falling estrogen levels as typically occurs before and during menses. Of equal interest, migraine headaches tend to disappear during pregnancy when hormone levels run high.

The scientists then write, “given that lifetime estrogen exposure is correlated with breast cancer risk, the occurrence of migraines in women, which also has a relationship to estrogen, may be related to breast cancer risk.”

The scientists call for confirmatory studies since theirs is the first to identify the association. It is particularly important to undertake follow-up studies since this study was unable to account for a potential confounding effect of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Motrin. These drugs are commonly used to treat migraines and have been linked to a reduced risk of breast cancer.


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