Is there a link between higher education and brain tumors?

People who have a higher education may be at risk for developing a particular type of cancerous brain tumor, according to a new study.

Researchers in Sweden tracked data on 4.3 million people over a 17-year period, from 1993-2010. During that time, nearly 13,000 of those tracked developed brain tumors.

The study found that women who completed at least three years of college were 23 percent more likely to develop a glioma, a cancerous brain tumor, than women who did not attend college. For men, the figure was 19 percent.

While the study does not establish a direct cause-and-effect between education and brain tumors, the outcomes are significant enough to demonstrate some sort of link, researchers said.

“One possible explanation is that highly educated people may be more aware of symptoms and seek medical care earlier,” study co-author Amal Khanolkar told livescience.com. This would result in a greater likelihood that the tumors would be diagnosed and treated, he explained.

Researchers also found links between brain tumor development and status. They discovered that higher income levels and greater job responsibilities led to an increased risk of glioma among the men studied.  For women, however, only a higher-level occupation correlated with a higher risk; income had no effect.

Regardless of one’s education level or status, Dr. Herman Dick, Jr., an Advocate Medical Group neurologist at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill., believes it’s important to know the warning signs of a brain tumor. Dr. Dick says the more common signs include:

  • Unusual headaches, particularly upon waking up
  • Visual blurring
  • Double vision
  • New difficulty with memory or thinking
  • Balance problems
  • Episodes of loss of awareness
  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the body

According to the American Brain Tumor Association, “glioma” is a general term that describes any tumor arising from the supportive (“gluey”) tissue of the brain. This tissue, called “glia,” helps keep the neurons in place and functioning well.  Gliomas represent 27 percent of all brain tumors and 80 percent of all malignant tumors.

The exact cause of glioma is unknown.

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