Good News: My Migraines May Be Good for My Breasts


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Horrible head pain may have a very silver lining.
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I got my first migraine on Saturday, July 13, 1985. I had fled to the rooftop of my apartment building to escape the Live Aid concert that my husband was blaring full blast from the TV. Thirty minutes later I ran back down and told him I thought I was having a stroke. My head hurt terribly and there was a squiggly shiny thing vibrating in my eyes.

A neurologist diagnosed me with a migraine, and I have suffered several of the nasty headaches with auras (light disturbances) since. I cant think of the word migraine without also thinking about Bob Geldof (the organizer of Live Aid). And the next thought I have is what poor taste he has to name his children Fifi, Peaches, and Pixie. But I digress.

Now I get to add a much better association: healthy breasts. Unbelievably, recent research reveals that women who get migraines (even just once) may be less likely to get some kinds of breast cancer. This is huge and such an unexpected gift—kind of like finding out that cheese and eggs are good for your heart.

The news came from cancer epidemiologist Christopher Li, MD, and his colleagues at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, who surveyed 3,500 postmenopausal women, 2,000 of whom had breast cancer and 1,500 who didnt. They discovered that the women with migraines had a 30% lower risk of developing breast cancer.

How could the pain in my head have anything to do with sickness in my boobs? Researchers speculate that estrogen could be the key. Higher estrogen levels have been linked to breast cancer, and migraines sometimes occur during estrogen fluctuations—when it drops during menstruation, for example.

Of course, the breast cancer benefit could come from the drugs that migraine sufferers take, typically nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, of which I am a very big fan. After years of experimentation, Ive found I can usually "cure" a migraine within a few hours by chugging two cans of Diet Coke and swallowing four Advil. Together, they work a lot better than many of the drugs Ive been prescribed, and now I know the caffeine and meds may be good for my girls too! A Harvard study found a "a weak inverse association between caffeine-containing beverages and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer."

So, the next time I get a migraine and pop that first can of Diet Coke, I'll drink to my girls' health and to the pain passing quickly.

Read Anne's previous posts:
It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Should You Think Before You Pink?

Christina Applegate Chose Breast Reconstruction, So How Come Other Women Don't?

Last Updated: November 12, 2008

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