Brain Tumor Linked To Educational Level

I recently read an article by Marie Ellis that I found interesting and had never thought about before. For the year 2017, in the Unites States, there was an estimated 78,000 new cases of primary brain tumors to be diagnosed. The causes for these tumors are largely unknown, but an observational study has found a link between an increased risk of developing a brain tumor and holding a university degree. Now that is scary to me and I am sure to many highly educated people.

The University College London researchers in the United Kingdom and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have published their findings in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. The American Brain Tumor Association reports there are more than 100 histologically distinct types of primary brain and central nervous system tumors.

The most common type of primary brain tumor is meningiomas, that represent 36.4% of all primary brain tumors. Gliomas is a broad term including all tumors from the “gluey” (supportive) tissue of the brain and accounts for 27% of brain tumors and 80% of all malignant tumors. The glial cells that surround and support neurons in the brain are where the gliomas arise.

Researchers are saying from the latest study, that few risk factors have been identified for brain tumors, but some include exposure to ionizing radiation and certain rare genetic syndromes. The researchers used data on more than 4.3 million Swedes who were born between 1911-1961 and were living in Sweden in 1991. The subjects were monitored between 1993-2010 to see if they developed a primary brain tumor and researchers gleaned data on educational attainment, disposable income, marital status and occupation from national insurance, labor market, and national census data. It was shown that men with a university education that lasted at least 3 years were 19% more likely to develop a glioma, compared with those men with an education that did not go beyond compulsory schooling or 9 years of primary education. Women with higher education had a 23% higher glioma risk and a 16% higher meningioma risk, compared to women who did not.

High-level disposable income levels were linked with a 14% increased risk of glioma among men but disposable income level was not linked with heightened risk of any brain tumor in women.

Occupation for both men and women played a role in risk. Men in a professional or managerial role had a 20% increased risk of glioma and a 50% increased risk of acoustic neuroma. The women in these professional and managerial roles had a 26% higher risk for glioma and a 14% higher risk for meningioma, compared with women in manual roles.

Single versus married or cohabitating men had another interesting finding. The single men had a lower risk of glioma but a higher risk of meningioma, compared to those married or cohabiting. Researchers did not observe any of these associations among the women. Now that’s an interesting finding.

This is an observational study and they cannot draw any conclusions about the cause and effect. The studies had some limitations as they did not have information on lifestyle factors that could influence the risk of brain tumor. The occupational results could also be misclassified for those who changed their job after the information was recorded.

–Dr Fredda Branyon

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