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Study Identifies Association Between Migraine History, Brain Tumors

Jaime Rosenberg
According to a new study, prior migraine history is associated with brain tumors. While associated with both sexes, the risk is higher among men than women.
Migraines and headaches often occur among patients with brain tumors and are the most common complaint as the initial symptoms among these patients. Based on their high prevalence, there has been speculation as to whether headaches and migraines should be treated as risk factors for the development of brain tumors or if they should be considered the “first sign” of brain tumors.

According to a new study, prior migraine history is associated with brain tumors. While associated with both sexes, the risk is higher among men than women.

“As brain neoplasms are most treatable in their earlier stages, our results suggest to increase awareness of the possibilities of brain tumors among patients with migraine for both early detection and patient health,” wrote the researchers. “Appropriate adherence to screening and regular medical follow-ups after a migraine diagnosis might assist in early recognition of key symptoms of malignant brain tumors.”

These findings were a result of data coming from the Taiwan National Health Insurance Research Database, which identified 11,325 adults with a first-time brain tumor diagnosis between January 1, 2006, and December 31, 2013. The study also included 11,325 unaffected matched controls.

More than twice as many patients with brain tumors had prior migraines compared with the controls (4.89% vs 2.08%), and regression analyses suggested that the odds of prior migraines were 2.45 times greater for patients with brain tumors than for controls. The association between brain tumors and migraines was prevalent among both sexes. In particular, male patients with brain were 3 times more likely to have prior migraines than male controls.

Even after excluding patients with any migraine history within 1 to 3 years prior to brain tumor diagnosis, a significant association still existed, with increased odds ranging from 1.91 to 1.99.

“The underlying mechanism explaining the association between migraines and brain tumors is likely to be multifactorial, and to involve both pathophysiological processes as well as environmental circumstances,” wrote the researchers. “It has not been clearly addressed, yet a preliminary biological plausibility exists, involving inflammatory activities.”

More research to determine the underlying mechanism is needed to not only validate these findings but to also direct patient management, they explained. And, despite their recommendations for more aggressive management and treatment of migraine, they also warned it is likely too preliminary to disclose the potential brain tumor risk to patients with migraine, as they might inappropriately interpret their symptoms.


Chen C, Sheu J, Lin Y, Lin H. Association of migraines with brain tumors: a nationwide population-based study [published online November 15, 2018]. J Headache Pain. doi: 10.1186/s10194-018-0944-1.

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