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Migraines May Cut Breast Cancer Risk

Study Shows Women With Migraine Headaches May Have Lower Risk of Breast Cancer

Role of Migraine Medication

Another possible reason women with migraines seem at reduced risk for breast cancer is medications they take to control headache pain, Li says.

"These women may be more frequent users of NSAIDs [nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs]," he says "There is evidence that use of NSAIDs is protective against breast cancer, so part of this reduction could be related to use of that medication, though it is unlikely to account for the whole reduction."

That doesn't mean women should start taking NSAIDs, which include aspirin and ibuprofen, Li says, but further research will explore that possibility.

Len Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, says the study supports the link between estrogen and hormone-sensitive breast cancer.

"You can't absolutely say for sure that what the researchers are measuring is in fact responsible for higher or lower risk of breast cancer," Lichtenfeld tells WebMD.

The study, he says, points out that postmenopausal women, who are known to have lower levels of estrogen, also have a lower frequency of migraines. "What they are saying here is: this is not just postmenopausal. If you have migraines, it may indicate that you have lower estrogen levels throughout your life. This may explain the findings in this study that women with migraines have a lower risk of breast cancer."

Lichtenfeld says obesity also is related to increased risk of breast cancer after menopause because fat cells produce estrogen. "Some researchers say the higher estrogen levels in the blood are the reason there is an increased breast cancer risk in overweight and obese postmenopausal women."

Li says researchers "were surprised by the magnitude of the reduction in breast cancer" in women with migraines and that the study "is good news in that it identified a potential new protective factor."

For now, he says, women "should just continue their regular screenings."

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