Researchers found that women who completed at least three years of university courses were 23 per cent more likely to develop a type of cancerous brain tumour called glioma, compared with women who only completed up to nine years of mandatory education and did not go to a university. And men who completed at least three years of university courses were 19 per cent more likely to develop the same type of tumour, when compared with men who did not go to a university.
Though the reasons behind the link are not clear, “one possible explanation is that highly educated people may be more aware of symptoms and seek medical care earlier”, and therefore are more likely to be diagnosed, said Amal Khanolkar, a research associate at the Institute of Child Health at the University College London and a co-author of the study.
In the study, the researchers looked at data on more than 4.3 million people in Sweden who were a part of the Swedish Total Population Register. The researchers tracked the people for 17 years, beginning in 1993, to see if they developed brain tumours during that time. They also collected information about their education levels, income, marital status and occupation.
During the 17-year study, 5,735 men and 7,101 women developed brain tumours, according to the findings, published on June 20 in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. In addition, to the differences between brain tumour development and education level, researchers also found an association between brain tumour development and income.
Men who had higher incomes were 14 per cent more likely to develop glioma during the study period, compared to men with lower incomes, according to the study. However, the relationship between the risk of this type of brain tumour and income level was not found in women.
Moreover, the study found that men who worked in managerial and professional roles were 20 per cent more likely to develop glioma, when compared with those who worked manual jobs. These men were also 50 per cent more likely to develop acoustic neuroma, a type of non-cancerous brain tumour that grows on the nerve that is used for hearing and balance.
Researchers also found that women who completed at least three years of university courses were also 16 per cent more likely to develop a type of mostly non-cancerous brain tumour called meningioma, compared to women who did not go on to higher education. The new findings are in line with previous research, which has also found a link between an increased risk of certain brain tumours and higher socio-economic status, the researchers said.
However, the new study only shows a link between certain types of brain tumour and certain factors; it does not show that these factors directly cause brain tumors, the researchers said. While other lifestyle factors might have also played a role, the researchers did not have access to such information, they said.