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Migraines Linked to Lower Breast Cancer Risk

Follow-up Study Confirms That Migraine Headache Sufferers Have Lower Breast Cancer Risk

Migraines and Breast Cancer Risk: Why?

It's not known why having migraine headaches appears to lower breast cancer risk, Li says.

Fluctuations in reproductive hormones are thought to explain the link, with migraines often occurring when estrogen drops, Li writes in the study. It's known, for instance, that women on oral contraceptives have more frequent migraines during their hormone-free week, when hormones decline. When women who have migraines get pregnant, many have relief by the third trimester, when estrogen levels rise substantially, he writes.

Migraines and Breast Cancer Risk: Perspective

While the study is well done and there may be an association between migraine and breast cancer risk reduction, "the real connection is unclear," says Len Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta.

"Could it be hormones? Yes," he says, but adds that it could be other factors as well.

"Postmenopausal women who are obese are at higher risk for breast cancer," he says. "That is thought to be related to the higher circulating estrogen levels." But he says more research is needed to figure out the association between migraines and breast cancer risk reduction.

The potential link between migraines and reduced breast cancer risk does make sense, says Scott Maul, MD, a medical oncologist in Milwaukee who also reviewed the study for WebMD. Higher lifetime exposure to estrogen is a known risk factor for breast cancer, he notes, and some migraines seem to be associated with a drop in estrogen. "But not all migraines are due to hormone fluctuations," he tells WebMD.

"It's hardly a conclusive study," he says. Limitations of the study include the self-report method, which is always subject to participants' less-than-perfect memories.

And migraines are among a multitude of risk factors associated with breast cancer that are under study, he says.

Migraines and Breast Cancer Risk: What's Next

Li agrees that more research is needed. Next, his team will focus on the underlying biology of how migraines may reduce breast cancer risk, hoping the discovery will help them figure out how to reduce risk for non-migraine sufferers as well.

Meanwhile, women with migraine headaches should follow the same preventive breast health steps recommended for women without migraines, Li says. "It really should not change the way they approach breast cancer screening," he says.

Lichtenfeld agrees, noting that women at average risk of breast cancer should begin annual mammograms at age 40.

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