Study Links College Education and Brain Tumors

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CT scan showing a glioma tumor
Source: Mikhail Kalinin, “Glioma of the Left Parietal Lobe. CT Scan with Contrast
Enhancement,”, Sep. 15, 2009

College-educated men were 19% more likely than men without higher education to be diagnosed with glioma, a type of brain cancer, while women with a college education were 23% more likely to receive the diagnosis, according to a June 20, 2016 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. Glioma is a type of brain and spine tumor that accounts for “approximately 30% of all brain and central nervous system tumors and 80% of all malignant brain tumors,” according to a Dec. 2012 study.

Women with three or more years of college were also 16% more likely to be diagnosed with meningioma, a brain tumor that accounts for about one-third of all brain tumors and form from the coverings of the brain and spinal cord. Besides college education, having a professional or managerial job and higher income were also linked to increased risk of three types of brain tumors.

The 2016 study analyzed 4,305,265 Swedes born between 1911 and 1961. There were 5,735 brain tumors in men and 7,101 in women.

Amal Khanolkar, MSC, PhD, Research Associate at the Institute of Child Health at University College London and one of the study’s authors, stated that the study showed, “consistent association between indicators or socioeconomic position and brain tumors.”

Eric Holland, MD, PhD, Director of the Nancy and Buster Alvord Brain Tumor Center at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, stated, “This particular study showed a correlation… I would say it wouldn’t surprise me if there was a slight shift towards smarter, better educated people — if only because in educated or smart people, the brain is always working, thinking and coming up with new connections. That’s an active process and that kind of thing could make cells more likely to kick over into cancer. It could, in theory, activate them. But that is utter speculation. There is absolutely no data for it.”


American Brain Tumor Association, “Meningioma,” (accessed June 22, 2016)

Agata Blaszczak-Boxe, “Brain Tumor Risk Linked with Higher Education, Study Finds,”, June 20, 2016

McKinsey L. Goodenberger and Robert B. Jenkins, “Genetics of Adult Glioma,”, Dec. 2012

Amal R Khanolkar, et al “Socioeconomic Position and the Risk of Brain Tumour: A Swedish National Population-Based Cohort Study””, June 20, 2016

Mary Brophy Marcus, “Study Linking College Education with Brain Tumor Risk Raises Many Questions,”, June 21, 2016