A Fibromyalgia Cancer Connection?

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




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