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Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle conducted a study that looked at the relationship between breast cancer and migraines and found that women who had a history of migraine headaches were less likely to develop breast cancer than other women.

Dr. Christopher Li, the lead author said that this 30% risk reduction was for the most common types of breast cancers — those driven by hormones, such as estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer, fueled by estrogen, and progesterone-receptor positive breast cancer, fueled by progesterone.

Hormones are also known to play a role in migraines, a type of headache often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and heightened sensitivity to light and sound. Although it is not understood yet why women with a history of migraines have a lower breast cancer risk, the researchers suspect hormones are playing a role.

Women who have higher levels of estrogen in their blood have higher levels of breast cancer while migraines are often triggered by low levels of the hormone estrogen. Those women who get migraines may have a chronically lower baseline estrogen and this difference could actually mean protection against breast cancer.

The study included over 3,000 post-menopausal women because migraines are most severe among this group. They analyzed both women with breast cancer history as well those without. The women had to provide information on their migraine history too.

The analysis showed that women who had reported a clinical diagnosis of migraine had a 30% reduced risk of developing hormonally sensitive breast cancers.

These study results need to be interpreted with caution but still the researchers are hoping they would point to a possible new factor that may be related to breast-cancer risk.

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It is interesting that migraine headache sufferers actually enjoy a selective advantage in having a lower susceptibility to breast cancer. This is not unlike people who are afflicted with sickle cell anemia, a red blood cell malformation that offers them resistance to the malarial parasite Plasmodium, allowing them to survive malaria in infested areas while many with normal red blood cells succumb to the disease. Imperfection is not necessarily a bad thing, as it offers the type of genetic diversity that allows the human species to survive.
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