Headache, migraine and risk of brain tumors in women: prospective cohort study

J Headache Pain. 2015;16(1):501. doi: 10.1186/s10194-015-0501-0. Epub 2015 Mar 1.


Background: While headache is a common symptom among brain tumors patients, often patients with common headache have concerns of being at risk for developing brain tumors. We aimed to disprove that migraine or headache in general is associated with increased risk of developing brain tumors.

Methods: Prospective study among 39,534 middle-aged women, free of any cancer, and who provided information on headache history at baseline. We followed participants for occurrence of medical record-confirmed brain tumors. We ran multivariable-adjusted Cox proportional hazards models to evaluate associations between any headache, migraine, and non-migraine headache with incident brain tumors. We further evaluated whether migraine frequency and updated headache information during follow-up could be linked with brain tumors.

Results: A total of 13,022 (32.9%) women reported headache, of which 5,731 were classified as non-migraine headache and 7,291 as migraine. During a mean follow-up of 15.8 years, 52 brain tumors were confirmed. The multivariable-adjusted hazard ratios (95% confidence interval) for brain tumors were 1.33 (0.76-2.34) for any headache, 1.18 (0.58-2.41) for migraine and 1.53 (0.75-3.12) for non-migraine headache. The association for any headache was further attenuated in time-varying analyses (1.15; 0.58-2.24). Those who experience migraine six times/year were also not at increased risk of brain tumor (0.67; 0.13-3.32).

Conclusions: Results of this large, prospective cohort study in women do not provide evidence that headache in general or migraine in particular are associated with the occurrence of brain tumors. Our data should reassure patients with headache that brain tumor is not a long-term consequence of headache.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Brain Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Headache Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Migraine Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Prospective Studies