Migraines Equal Less Risk of Breast Cancer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A landmark study confirms that women clinically diagnosed with migraine headaches have a twenty-six percent less chance of developing breast cancer, before or after menopause. The study clarifies that women with migraine headaches have less risk of breast cancer regardless of medication, alcohol, or tobacco use, or hormone replacement therapy.

The study is a follow up to previous research showing the association between migraines headaches and reduced risk of breast cancer that was published November 2008 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. The current study included four times as many women, from a variety of geographical locations.

The first study showing that migraine headaches somehow equal less risk of breast cancer included women age 55 to 74, which would indicate post-menopausal status. The new study looked at women as young as age 34, before menopause, thus expanding the findings that migraine headaches consistently seem to be associated with reduced risk of breast cancer.


Study author Christopher I. Li, M.D., Ph.D., a breast-cancer epidemiologist and associate member of the Hutchinson Center's Public Health Sciences Division says, "From an epidemiological perspective, having a larger and more diverse study in its underlying population helps in replicating the finding.” Dr. Li also led the first study.

The researchers are not sure why having migraines is so protective. According to a third study, taking anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen is also not responsbible for the reduced risk of breast cancer found in women with migraines.

The current study took into account multiple factors, such as drinking alcohol, hormone replacement and smoking. Dr. Li says, that migraines might ”stand alone as a protective factor” against breast cancer.

The researchers plan to study the type, frequency and overall nature of migraine headaches in women with reduced risk of breast cancer in hopes of finding more clues. Dr.Li says they have some ideas about why women clinically diagnosed with migraine headache have less risk of breast cancer, “but it's unclear exactly what the biological mechanisms are."

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
This page is updated on May 24, 2013.