Published: 22-06-2016 10:20 | Updated: 22-06-2016 10:22

Highly educated men are more likely to be diagnosed with a brain tumour

A new study from Karolinska Institutet published in The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health shows that people of a higher socioeconomic position are more commonly diagnosed with glioma, the most common form of adult brain tumour. The results are particularly salient for men.

The paper is based on a large population study including 4.3 million people born in Sweden between 1911 and 1961 who studied during the period from 1993 to 2010. The results show a correlation between socioeconomic position and the likelihood of being diagnosed with glioma that although found in both sexes was particularly strong for men.

Maria Feychting Photo: Stefan Zimmerman

“One reason could be that people with a higher socioeconomic status tend more to seek treatment and are better at speaking for themselves,” says study leader Professor Maria Feychting at the Institute of Environmental Medicine. “Surgery is needed to obtain the biopsy to establish exactly what kind of tumour a patient has. The patient’s state of health generally affects the ability to operate, which can also be related to socioeconomic status.”

Less clear resulats

Professor Feychting does not, however, think that this is the whole story, since the strength of the correlation varied according to tumour type. The results were less clear for the more benign, slow-growth meningioma and acoustic neurinoma tumours, for which the risk levels were higher, respectively, for men and women in the more highly skilled social groups.

“More research is needed to ascertain the causes,” says Professor Feychting.

Higher risk

Higher education (at least three years at university), higher income and belonging to a higher professional category (socioeconomic status) are all factors that can be associated with the likelihood of receiving a glioma diagnosis. The study also found evidence of a higher risk for married or cohabiting men.

“Manifest symptoms of a brain tumour like glioma can include a personality change,” says Professor Feychting. “If you’re married or living with someone, you have someone around who’ll notice this and make sure you see a doctor.”

What do you hope your study will help bring about?

“It would be good if it led to a deeper analysis of the care pathway from primary care to neurosurgery, and studies of whether there are differences between men and women, and in different age groups. We also have to study if these associations change with time.”

The study was funded by the Swedish Research Council and the Swedish Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare


Socioeconomic position and the risk of brain tumour: a Swedish national population-based cohort study
Amal R. Khanolkar, Rickard Ljung, Mats Talbäck, Hannah L. Brooke, Sofia Carlsson, Tiit Mathiesen and Maria Feychting
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, online 20 juni 2016, doi:10.1136/jech-2015-207002.