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Over the past few years, studies have identified a connection between migraines and breast cancer — that women who have migraines are less likely to develop breast cancer.
The likely connection, researchers believe, is hormones. That is, lower estrogen levels often trigger migraines, and lower estrogen exposure has been linked with a decease in breast cancer risk. For some women, the discussion about estrogen raises concerns about hormone therapy, explains Christopher Menendez, M.D., a breast surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano.
“What I tell my patients who are worried about the estrogen they’re taking is that these studies haven’t been able to say, ‘The hormones women are taking are definitely causing breast cancer,’” he says. “Studies show a trend to an increased risk of breast cancer with long-term use after menopause, rather than a direct cause and effect, such as the case with lung cancer and smoking, for example.”
That’s why Dr. Menendez says the decision to take hormones is an individual one, and women have to gauge their own comfort levels in terms of benefit from the hormones vs. cancer risk. But he also encourages women to exercise caution when looking at studies.
“When you’re looking into cause and effect related to a disease, the best studies out there — the ones we take note of — are the ones that look at a large population of patients and look at that large population of patients over a long period of time,” he says.
Some studies, he explains, only study 100 people over two or three years, so even if researchers reach a drastic conclusion, it likely won’t change the way medicine is practiced. Those studies that have looked at the effects of estrogen on breast cancer show a slightly increased risk for prolonged use.
The good news for women is that as more studies are conducted, researchers are gaining a deeper understanding of breast cancer, its causes and treatments.
“We’re always researching and learning,” Dr. Menendez says.
Get your mammogram! It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and this is the perfect time to schedule your mammogram. Call 1.800.4BAYLOR to schedule your mammogram. Find out more about our breast imaging services here.
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