How going to university raises the risk of developing brain tumour

People with higher levels of education may be more likely to develop certain types of brain tumours, a new study from Sweden suggests. Researchers found that women who completed at least three years of university courses were 23 percent 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 percent more likely to develop the same type of tumour, compared with men who did not go to a university.

It has been an ‘urban legend’ among neurosurgeons that smarter people are more likely to get brain tumours. However, I am somewhat surprised to find that this may actually be true.

Dr. Raj K. Narayan, the chair of neurosurgery at North Shore University Hospital in New York

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 the people’s 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 today in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 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 researchers.