A Fibromyalgia Cancer Connection?

June 13, 2009

Posted by Cort Johnson

Whittemore -Peterson Neuro- Immune Institute researchers have uncovered a possible cancer subset in chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) (See The Hit of the Conference: IACFS/ME Conference II).  In this guest blog Yvonne Kenney, the founder of the Fibromyalgia Coalition International, reports on some preliminary evidence suggesting that the cancer problem may not be limited to ME/CFS.  More evidence suggests that  high levels of pain lead to increased rates of mortality not just suicide but  possibly from heart disease, stroke and other illnessess.

FM/CFS/ME patients are told that these illnesses are not fatal. This is simply wrong! I have spoken with more than 10,000 patients over the past 11 years and concluded long ago that FM/CFS/ME patients have a higher rate of cancer, heart attacks, stroke, and suicide than the rest of the population.

One of our support group members, only 48 years old, died unexpectedly of a heart attack in May 2001. I have also noticed a high incidence of breast cancer among our support group members and know that the suicide rate is high. I have intervened more than once.

In 2004, Dr. Gary J. Macfarlane said at the annual European Congress of Rheumatology, “Patients with fibromyalgia and other forms of widespread chronic body pain lacking medical explanation may be at subsequent increased risk for cancer.”

This surprising and unprecedented finding from a large prospective population-based study conflicts with the conventional wisdom that fibromyalgia patients can safely be reassured they aren’t at elevated risk for life-threatening disease or premature death, noted Dr. Macfarlane, professor of epidemiology at the University of Manchester (England).

Total mortality was 30% higher in individuals with regional pain and 60% higher in those with widespread pain.

A total of 448 first cancers were diagnosed during follow-up. Individuals with widespread body pain had a 2.5% incidence of cancer over 10 years–a 50% greater rate than in those with no pain after adjusting for age, gender, and socioeconomic status. Those with regional pain had a 20% increased cancer incidence.

Individuals who reported widespread pain had a greater incidence of subsequent cancer and, after being diagnosed with a malignancy, were also about 80% more likely to die than those diagnosed with cancer who didn’t have a history of chronic pain, Dr. Macfarlane said.

The increase in cancer risk was confined to a few types of malignancies. Breast cancer was roughly fourfold more common in women who previously reported widespread pain than in those without such a history. The rate of prostate cancer was similarly elevated among men with widespread pain. Colon cancer was increased in both sexes.

Deaths due to accidents or suicide were also considerably more common in individuals with widespread pain.

“Is this a chance finding? Well, I think it could be. This is the only such report, but then I don’t think other people have looked,” the epidemiologist said. His report was viewed with dismay by audience members who regularly see patients with fibromyalgia in their offices.

In another study among the 1,163 women with confirmed fibromyalgia, for example, the rate of suicide was nine-fold greater than in the general population, as reflected in Danish mortality register statistics. The suicide rate among the 106 women with possible fibromyalgia was increased 20-fold.

And a report  from Tallahassee, FL Nov. 22, 2007 – stated “In the journal Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging this month, researchers in the Department of Nutrition, Food and Exercise Sciences at Florida State University presented their findings regarding treating the reduced heart rate variability (HRV) that is found in fibromyalgia patients. Reduced heart rate variability increases fibromyalgia patients’ risk for illness and death from cardiovascular problems.”


Yvonne Keeny
Founder & Executive Director
Fibromyalgia Coalition International
6220 Antioch Rd, Ste 212
Merriam KS 66202-5107


{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Sherrie Sisk June 15, 2009 at 6:28 am

Oh, great. Just what I need. Another reason to worry. In all seriousness, I hope chronic pain sufferers don’t let themselves worry about this potential link too much — for one thing, the worry itself is a health-ruiner. For another, this is all very preliminary and worthy of more study but it’s not time to panic yet, I don’t think. What it is time to do is to take pain, as a health condition unto itself, whatever its root cause, much more seriously than the medical establishment currently does.


cort June 15, 2009 at 7:57 am

Good point. I’ve found that worry and anxiety contribute greatly to pain. It is just a preliminary study and even if it turns out to be real – statistics are always broad reflections of a population and don’t necessarily reflect an individuals response to a disease. It’s hard to imagine, though, that the stress of pain doesn’t contribute to increased risk of other diseases. It’s amazing that pain – the most difficult symptom of all – is understudied but it really is.

The silver lining in the mortality issue in FM is that it may prompt more research that will eventually lead to treatments that will at some point put the increased mortality problem, if it is present, to bed. For me I find meditation and relaxation therapies very helpful.


Alicia Penn July 6, 2012 at 7:32 am

Ha, I looked this up because my botfriend has just been dianosed with polymyosis. Some doctors say it occures with the trace of cancer and leaves as soon as the cancer is in remission. I have fibro, he said maybe I have what he has. We both suffer though a lot of pain. I recently had a doctors appointment which conclues cancer in the reproductive organs. I think there is a true connection between FM and cancer. I feel like Im dying. As this research says, I don’t care if my life was taken.


marie ann February 24, 2014 at 3:55 pm

DO not ever give up or in….With proper diet, supplements, rest and slow movement exercise you can greatly reduce your symptoms…DO get into Deep Tissue Massage as it loosens the fascia that surrounds the muscles and where the inflamed nerves are…YOU will hurt after the massage. IT is not meant to be a SPA MASSAGE…but, a medical massage. AS well see a Chrio DOC…using an automater..a tool used , that does NOT hurt to realign the body skeletally helps as well. HYDRATE LOTS…water, and esp GREEN TEAS…hot and cold…Also ask your doc about an antidepressant as it reduces adrenalin output…and you may benefit from a diazapam..This drug is shown to work in the brain to reduce the nervous systems reactions to stress and aids in pain reduction… I USE all these plus a multitude of supplements.. Good Luck…I WILL NOT TAKE LIRICA ….the side affects friends have had were way too much plus the added wt gain…it is enough to gain the 20 or so lbs from the Fibro…

Nancy June 25, 2009 at 7:50 am

I’m not surprised. Most people tend to have ME/CFS as well as Fibro but have not been diagnosed as having both – often just Fibro. Some experts in these fields believe that ME/CFS and Fibro are subsets of the same underlying disorder.

So with the latest news about the discovery that 20-30% Dr. Peterson’s patients have cancer – and not just any old cancer – but “rare” cancers, would lead me to not be at all surprised that someone could be diagnosed with Fibro but also have ME/CFS but not been diagnosed and therefore might fall into the percentage that are more likely to get those cancers.

This is what caught the attention of a cancer researcher to get involved with ME/CFS – the fact that a percentage of Dr. Peterson’s patients had such “rare” cancers for their age.


Nancy ( #2) June 29, 2009 at 9:18 pm

It seems as if we need some very carefully -designed epidemiological studies of the CFS/FM populations. There has been focus on pain and fatigue. This is important, of course, but my observations over a period of 8 years (as support group leader) indicates that there are many other health issues that may be of high incidence in these groups: congenital anomalies of the spine, pelvis, and viscera- including heart; degenerative vertebrae in the lower neck; craniofascial asymmetries ( including deviated septum); finger, feet, and toe anomalies – including club feet, very high arches, ‘hitchhiker thumbs,’ webbed fingers/toes; vascular anomalies – hemangiomas of various kinds. In our support group we have had 4 surgeries (including one death) due to intestinal volvulus. These “twists” in the intestines may result from congenital mesentery anomalies or intestinal malrotation. In all cases, diagnoses were delayed because symptom severity was not taken seriously, intestinal malrotation was not considered as a diagnosis, and/or current imaging techniques were inadequate. There is some research indicating that immunodeficiency may be secondary to structural intestinal defects. ( Fawcett WA et al. Immunodeficiency secondary to structural intestinal defects. Malrotation of the small bowel and cavernous hemangioma of the jejunum. Archives of Ped.&Adolescent Medicine 140(2):169, 1986.) Additional reports suggest a hypermobile colon may not be rare, but found in 11 to 25% of adults !

Dr. Donald Siebel ( studying 2,ooo) FM patients ( reported in The Fibromyalgia Syndrome: A Clinical Case Definition for Practitioners, ed. by I. Jon Russell, MD, PhD, Haworth Press) reported that scoliosis and sacral instability were consistently found in FM patients. Scoliosis research is looking carefully at the possibility of asynchronous neuro-osseous growth in adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. That is, these people
may have a spinal cord that is essentially “too short” for the bony vertebral column, resulting in a neuraxis which is under tension in the axial direction. Could this also be a factor in adult scoliosis patients ??

These are HUGE IMPORTANT topics which may be affecting large numbers of people.


connie August 21, 2009 at 11:21 am

do you know if someone with fm is often bi polar?


maria fusco November 2, 2012 at 4:02 am

i am 54 had fibromyalia for over 10 years no one in my family have ever had cancer ,,,,just me ….i an now having chemo for breast cancer and the side effect are similar to bad fibro


sleepwalking December 30, 2012 at 8:31 pm

I have had FM for 15 yrs and just found out I have a rare vaginal cancer.


mary doody December 31, 2012 at 5:00 am

I am 63 year old me/cfs sufferer. I was shocked to get ductal breast cancer luminal A
in 2012. No family history of any cancer in 1st and 2nd degree relatives of any cancers just me


Isabel February 16, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Hi Mary,
I’m 71 years old and was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia in 1992. Of course, both of these came after tests, tests, and more tests. Western medicine wasn’t helpful at all so I had to try eastern – pills, tinctures, injections. Nothing worked, but I could cope somewhat for a few years. In May of 2012, another diagnosis piled on top – breast cancer! Just more fuel to the fire and the fire was out of control already.

I opted for only the lumpectomy with no other treatments like chemo and radiation due to my age. The oncologist told me that I’d probably have two good years, but definitely not five. That was fine with me. I could at least get my affairs in order in two years and be out of this horror chamber for good. It was not to be!! At my last appointment, the doctor told me that I was ‘clear’. No!!! It couldn’t be!! I want to die NOW! I have struggled long enough.


Cole Tzafen April 16, 2013 at 8:05 am

I cured my fibromyalgia using a vegan diet. I also used Essiac, yoga, qi gong and meditation. My FMS was debilitating. I would spend weeks at a time in bed, only getting up to go to the bathroom or get something to eat or drink. My eyesight was so poor that I wore prescription eyeglasses for a period of 6 years. The final straw was ending up in the hospital as my organs and associated systems began shutting down and the medical establishment has no answer, except to consume pharmaceuticals.

Check out these links, the following information saved my life. It gave me a quality of life. I have suffered from chronic illness since the age of 6. I am now 28 and healthier than I have ever been.


Want your doctor to understand how another Doctor has cured cancer and many other life threatening diseases?



There are alternative besides enduring chemotherapy and heavy pharmaceutical regiments.


Lorna Doone October 18, 2013 at 3:55 pm

I think they may be on to something. I contracted Mono in 2010, when the symptoms never cleared up, even though the blood tests showed I was over it, they finally diagnosed me with Fibro. Then 2 years later they diagnosed me with Thyroid cancer. There is no history of cancer in my immediate family. And now a year after that diagnosis they are thinking I’m starting to develop Breast Cancer – I’m on an every 6 months cancer check for that now. I’m also a non-smoker/drinker, eat healthy, and exercised a lot – well until the Fibro, now I barely exercise but it’s all I can do.


marie ann February 24, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Just a FYI….My grandmother developed RA in her 40s…She lived in much pain. BUT, as well she lived a long life into her 70s w/out any cancer or heart issues. We must recognize that some of us have inherent CA and Heart Disease genes. And, these genes show earlier when a stress disease as FM is diagnosed.. You do know in fact FM in years past was known as Rheumatism ? It was. Think back to all the elderly people in particular who suffered w/this condition. Another point of interest…Many women who have used birth control pills have in fact interrupted their homones natural flow and ebb. And this as well can lead to cancers and heart issues. Too, those who have had invitro treatments ? I have personally known of 2 women who developed early breast cancers right after the Invitro treatments, which include huge amts of hormone…Also, the number of STDs has increased the cancers in many women, and even young girls. All these things need to be kept in mind when assessing your particular potential of developing CA and Heart Disease.


kimberleylb March 6, 2014 at 2:10 pm

I’ve been reading up on breast cancer because I just found out I will have to go in for further testing because my mammogram showed an indeterminate area on one of my breasts. Upon researching, I came across a study of woman at a higher risk of breast cancer if they work at night as opposed to during the day and they attribute that to low melatonin levels. Now, if that test is accurate, wouldn’t it be accurate to say that people with FM/CFS/ME fit that bill too regardless of their job? Wasn’t it shown AGES ago that we have lower melatonin levels in studies? I’m confused.


Simon July 16, 2014 at 4:26 pm

You guys are all idiots. These are viruses being made in labs injected into vaccines and causing cancer. Fibromyalgia is just the symptoms of the virus attacking the body and cancer is what happens when too many cells are destroyed and not enough nutrients in the body can regenerate a healthy cell and not enough white blood cells can kill the healthy cell. You can get a virus from anyone and be too weak or not prepared to fight it off in which it acts like a herpes virus, flaring up during stress and causing cancer over time. There is nothing you can do unless you want to overthrow the government. All you can do is go on a ketogenic diet and try not to stress, eat crap(which is almost everything) and find love and joy in what little life you have.


Simon July 16, 2014 at 4:29 pm

can kill the unhealthy cancer cell***


carmen October 26, 2014 at 8:41 am

want to make experiment to be free of fybromyalgia? tell your doctor you want:
make this trial…..take 2 generic fioricet tablet, 60 mg cymbalta and 1 mg lorazepam every night before go to bed…….miracle!!!!!!


mary November 11, 2014 at 1:13 am

Hi age 65
I have suffered with me/ CFS for .ore than
50 years severe migraine, fatigue,IBS
All the time used to go to walls contemplating banging .my head to a pulp. Pulp but.never did.
Had difficulty with having babies _ 4 miscarriages, 1 adult child on disabled due to Addi tion and schizo affective disorder 1 adult child normal out of 6 pregnancies.
On unfit pension for 25 years now. Had undiag thyroid issues for decades which cou explain some but sttil have all symptoms. 2012 got luminalA breast cancer had lumpectomy and radiotherapy. Was shocked as no family history of. Ca.
CAmeds I take inderal 40.mg, stugeron for vertigo, T3 for thyroid,supplement s
I live isolated life, can’t tolerate cleaning agents, poor ventilation etc. Husband makes soup for me everyday and does all housework. Wondering how long I can go on like this



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