Higher Education Levels Linked to Brain Tumors, Study Claims

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

A new study from Sweden suggests that people who have higher levels of education could be at greater risk of developing certain types of brain tumors.

Researchers determined that women who had completed at least three years of university-level coursework had a 23% higher chance of developing glioma, a cancerous brain tumor, than women who had only finished the nine years of schooling required of them and who decided not to attend university.  Meanwhile, men who completed three years of college courses were 19% more likely to develop the same tumor than their peers who chose not to go to college.

The American Brain Tumor Association notes that there are over 100 histologically different types of primary brain and central nervous system tumors.  Of those, meningiomas are the most common form of primary brain tumor, accounting for 36.4% of all primary brain tumors.  Meanwhile, gliomas total 27% of all brain tumors and 80% of all malignant tumors, writes Marie Ellis for Medical News Today.

While the reasons behind the connection are not entirely clear, study co-author Amal Khanolkar, who is also a research associate at the Institute of Child Health at the University College London, said it could be a result of a higher awareness of symptoms by those with more education, which makes them more likely to seek out medical attention, and therefore, more likely to become diagnosed.

Researchers for the study looked at data concerning 4.3 million people in Sweden who are part of the Swedish Total Population Register.  These people were tracked for 17 years starting in 1993.  In that time, scientists looked to see whether or not any brain tumors developed.  Other information was also collected including education level, income, marital status, and occupation.

According to the findings, 5,735 men and 7,101 women developed brain tumors over the course of the study, writes Agata Blaszczak-Boxe for LiveScience.

A connection was also noted between the development of brain tumors and income levels.  Men who had higher incomes were found to be 14% more likely to develop glioma in comparison to men with lower income levels.  The same connection was not found among women in the study.

The study also found that men who held managerial or professional positions were 20% more likely to develop glioma when compared to those who held manual jobs.  This same group of men were also 50% more likely to develop acoustic neuroma, a type of noncancerous brain cell that develops on the nerve associated with hearing and balance.

In addition, women who had completed at least three years of education at the university level were found to be 16% more likely to develop a mostly noncancerous brain tumor known as meningioma when compared to women who did not attend college.

“It has been an ‘urban legend’ among neurosurgeons that smarter people are more likely to get brain tumors,” said Dr. Raj K. Narayan, the chair of neurosurgery at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, who was not involved in the new study. “However, I am somewhat surprised to find that this may actually be true.”

Narayan went on to say that while the connection between education levels and brain tumors is still unknown, it could have to do with that group of people having more brain cells or increased brain activity.