November 7, 2008

Migraines Associated with Reduced Breast Cancer Risk


Migraines Associated with Reduced Breast Cancer Risk

Women suffering from migraines appear to have a reduced risk for developing breast cancer, possibly due to fluctuating hormone levels. These results were recently published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

The majority of breast cancers are stimulated to grow from exposure to the female hormones estrogen and/or progesterone. If levels of these hormones are reduced, the growth stimulus for the cancer cells is stunted.? Migraines in women often occur when estrogen levels are low, the time immediately prior to or during menses. When estrogen levels are higher?such as during pregnancy?migraines often do not occur. Thus, researchers speculate that there may be an association between fluctuating hormones and migraines and, consequently, breast cancer incidence.

Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center recently conducted two studies to evaluate the potential association between migraines and breast cancer incidence. The studies included evaluation of data from the Cancer Surveillance System, a cancer registry in Western Washington. The first study included data from 975 women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1997 and 1999 and 1,007 women who did not have breast cancer at that time (controls). Women in this study were aged 65 to 79. The second study included 1,044 women diagnosed between 2000 and 2004 and 469 controls. Women in this study were aged 55 to 74.

  • Women with migraines had an overall 30% reduction in the rate of breast cancer.
  • The association between migraines and reduced breast cancer incidence was only significant in hormone-receptor positive breast cancers.
  • The use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) among migraine sufferers may account for a reduced risk in breast cancer; future trials accounting for this variable are necessary to determine an association.

The researchers concluded that women with migraines have a reduced risk of developing hormone-positive breast cancer. The authors noted, however, that further study is necessary to understand the mechanisms of this reduced risk.

Reference: Mathes R, et al. Migraine in postmenopausal women and the risk of invasive breast cancer. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. 2008; 17: 3116-22.

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