University education linked to higher risk of brain tumor

Men and women with a university degree have been linked to an increased risk of developing a brain tumor than people who do not take up higher education, according to an observational study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

group of happy graduates throwing graduation hats in the air celebrating

The research revealed that people who had studied at university for at least three years may be more likely to have malignant glioma brain tumors which form in the glial cells that support and protect the nerve cells in the brain.

Men were 19% more likely to develop a glioma if they had three or more years of higher education than men who did not attend more than nine years compulsory schooling.

Similarly, women who studied in further education, were 23% more likely to develop glioma and 16% more likely to have a meningioma, a benign slow growing tumor that forms in the protective layers around the brain and spinal cord in comparison to women who did not attend at least three years of extra study.

The occupations of people also appeared to have an impact. In comparison to men in manual roles, people in professional and managerial roles also had a 20% higher risk of developing a glioma and a 50% increased risk of an acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor that can affect the hearing and balance. Compared with women in manual jobs, women in professional and managerial roles were 26% more likely to develop a glioma or 50% more likely to have meningioma.

The scientists analyzed data from more than 4.3 million Swedish people who were born between 1911 and 1961 and living in Sweden in 1991. The study looked for diagnoses of primary brain tumors between 1993 and 2010.

Alongside educational level and occupation, the study also took other criteria into consideration such as disposable income and marital status. This information was gathered from national insurance, labor market and national census data.

The researchers found that 1.1 million people died and 48,000 emigrated during the period of the study. However, 7101 women and 5735 men developed a brain tumor. Other results included that:

  • Marital status and disposable income only had a mild impact on the risk and specifically for men
  • Disposable income did not raise the risk of any kind of brain tumor for women
  • An increased level of disposable income raised the risk of glioma in men by 14% but had no impact on meningioma or acoustic neuroma
  • Married men and those living with a partner had a higher risk of glioma but a lower risk of meningioma in comparison to single men. Marital and cohabiting status did not appear to have an impact on women

As this is an observational study, there are no confirmed details about cause and effect. However, the findings were consistent across the large population study.


Deborah Fields

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Deborah Fields

Deborah holds a B.Sc. degree in Chemistry from the University of Birmingham and a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism qualification from Cardiff University. She enjoys writing about the latest innovations. Previously she has worked as an editor of scientific patent information, an education journalist and in communications for innovative healthcare, pharmaceutical and technology organisations. She also loves books and has run a book group for several years. Her enjoyment of fiction extends to writing her own stories for pleasure.


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