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Analysis of Whether Education Can Affect the Risk of Cancer

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Cancer is one of the most well-known life-threatening conditions. The term ‘cancer’ is derived from a Greek word used by Galen in 100-200 AD ‘oncos’ which is Greek for swelling. This term was used to describe tumors. The Greek word, ‘oncos’, has been changed in modern health into oncology which means the study of tumors (Papavramidou N. et al.). A tumor is a swelling on a part of the body which grows abnormally and when there is a growth of abnormal cells in the body due to uncontrolled cell division this is known as cancer. There are many different types of cancers and the most common cancers in humans are; breast, liver, stomach and lung cancer (Dano et al., 2003). Lung cancer is the most common out of all of these cancers listed (Bray et al., 2018). As a result of the fact that cancer is a harmful disease and can spread if not treated properly and quickly. It has been argued that there is a correlation between getting an education and health (Grossman and Kaestner, 1997; Goldman et al., 2011). Education is needed because we would need to learn about what cancer is and once one realizes the symptoms, they would be able to treat it quicker. Getting an education would mean people are more likely to know the risks and ways to prevent themselves from getting cancer (Hemminki et al., 2003; Faggiano et al., 2003; Faggiano et al., 2004). In addition to this, gaining an education means a higher chance of getting a job with a good salary so this means being able to pay for healthcare services if needed. For example, being able to buy sunscreen to protect skin from skin cancer. Therefore, this reduces the risk of cancer for people that have an education as they are more aware of the risks (Levi et al., 1988). In this review, it will be examined on if education can affect the risk of cancer and decide on whether groups that have had an education are likely to get cancer and if there is a causal relationship between the two.

Education Level and Risk of Cancer

Reportedly, it has been suggested that those that have been poorly educated would not receive the proper care and knowledge they need so that they can avoid this life-threatening disease (Braaten et al., 2005). In Lleras-Muney’s 2005 study on education and mortality rates in adults it was shown that there was a causal relationship between education and adult mortality. Researchers found that adding more years to education would decrease percentages of the chances of dying by 3.6%. Lleras-Muney (2005) stated that an extra year of obligatory education would lower death rates after 35 years old by 3% (Lleras-Muney, 2005).

Mouw et al. (2008) further highlighted this in research where it was presented that obtaining a malignant disease, such as lung cancer and other cancers to do with smoking, increased when there was a reduced level of education (Mouw et al., 2008). Mouw et al. conducted a study on 498 455 participants to see the effects of education on the risk of cancer. They found that the more educated the category was the least likely it was that they would get cancer. The most common cancer that they found in less educated people was smoking related cancers like lung cancer. The highly educated group were less likely to smoke therefore they did not have smoking related cancers. They were more likely to have regularly checked themselves in the hospital for any signs of cancer and be fit health wise. Women that were in the study and more educated were said to be non-parous or conceive much later than women that had not had high levels of education. This displays that smoking causes cancer and education can also be a cause of cancer due to education being needed to understand the disease, it’s complications and treatment methods (Wynder EL et al., 1977). This study is more reliable than Lleras-Muney’s study as it is more recent, so it may have more information that is needed.

In a study carried out by Jensen et al. (2008), it was proven that socioeconomic factors had an impact on cancer risk. The study was carried out from 1994-2003 on 3 22 million subjects all aged 30 and above born in the years of 1925-1973 in Denmark, results showed that mortality from cervical cancer was low in women that had a better socioeconomic ranking than women that had a decreased level of education (Jensen et al., 2008). Moreover, endometrial and ovarian cancer death rates increased when linked to women with poor education.

In another similar study carried out by Marsa et al. (2008), socioeconomic position influenced the risk of cancer on male genital organs. This study used the same procedure but on males. It was found that men with higher levels of education had an increased chance of getting prostate cancer (Marsa et al., 2008). However, results showed that the possibility of getting testicular cancer did not depend on socioeconomic factors. Testicular cancer did not show a causal relationship with education in this study. These studies are similar because they are both in Denmark and scientists used male and female participants separately in the two studies.

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Opposing Study-Risk of Cancer Linked with Gaining a University Degree

Glioma, a brain tumor that occurs in a big group of cells in the brain called the glial cells (Llaguno et al., 2016). A study carried out in Sweden by Khanolkar et al. (2016) on a large cohort of university students showed that degrees can eventually lead to tumors in the brain (Khanolkar et al., 2016). Demonstrating that, education may not have a causal effect on the risk of cancer. This study is a more recent study so it may be more reliable and have more modern information on the effect of education on cancer. Khanolkar et al.’s study on gliomas and socioeconomic positioning opposes studies such as Mouw et al.’s study and Lleras-Muneys findings as this study claims that high levels of education increase the risk of cancer.

The scientists in this study, Khanolkar et al., used more than 4.3 million Swedish participants in their discoveries and based it on them. Every one of the participants were conceived somewhere in the range of 1911 and 1961 and were also still living in Sweden in 1991. Observations on participants of the study were carried out somewhere in the range of 1993 and 2010 (Khanolkar et al., 2016). This was to check whether they built up a glioma (a brain tumor). Information on their educational level, relationship statuses, income and more were collected via the national census data and labor market. During the time frame given for participants to see if they had gotten a brain tumor, 1.1 million individuals passed on and more than 48,000 emigrated, however 5735 of the men and 7101 of the ladies built up a brain tumor. Men that had achieved a higher-level education such as a university degree for three years, had a 19% higher possibility of being bound to build up a glioma which is a kind of brain tumor emerging in glial cells. Glial cells protect and stay close to neurons in the cerebrum (Llaguno et al., 2016). It was also found that men that did not take part in education or had not been in education for some years of the amount of compulsory years that were meant to be done (9 years) were least likely to build up a glioma. In the women, the possibility of this was 23% higher for getting a glioma in women with an education than women that did not achieve a higher-level education. This study therefore opposes the idea that high levels of education increase risk of cancer but also shows that there is a correlation between cancer and education.

Education Doesn’t Affect the Risk of Cancer

Lund et al.’s (1991) Norwegian study on education and breast cancer carried out on a large cohort of 425,844 married women demonstrated in the results gathered that education had no correlation with cancer. This experiment was carried out from 1970-1985 on Norwegian women aged 35-54 years old (Lund et al., 1991). This opposes arguments that education can affect cancer. However, this study may not be reliable as it is older than other studies arguing that there is a relationship. This means that data is outdated and uses old information which may not be useful. Another limitation is that this study only looks at educations effect on the risk of cancer on a large cohort of married women only and not men too.

To support this a more recent study was carried out by Hemminki et al. (2003). Hemminki et al. (2003) concluded that education had little to no effect on cancer mortality rates in this study as it was found that the development of cancer in men and women in multiple educational levels was 16.7% in women and in men it was 13.8%. This proves that there was not much of a difference between different educational levels. In which further highlighting the point that there is no causal effect between education and cancer. The study took place in Sweden and there were 9 educational groups involved between men and women. There was no specific trend as in all educational levels there was increasing and decreasing risk of cancer in cancer (Hemminki et al., 2003). Scientists in this study used PAF to show educational levels of the experiment (Van Loon et al., 1995).


Based on the findings from the studies and on common knowledge, education has an influence on cancer as we would learn about cancer in school and treatments or ways to prevent oneself from getting this disease. Adults that have not had an education in some cases may end up developing cancer as they have not learnt what is taught about cancer in education (Mouw et al., 2008). Furthermore, being in education for longer plays a key role because as one gets older, they learn in more detail and depth (Lleras-Muney, 2005). Therefore, they would learn what cancer is when in for example a science lesson. Later, with more years of education they may have learnt about prevention which some people may miss out on. This was demonstrated in studies and this proves that education can affect the risk of cancer. Future treatments are a vital factor to be considered. Researchers should consider future treatments for education affecting cancer. It can be implemented that everyone does compulsory schooling as that has been proven to have influenced an effect on the risk of cancer (Jensen et al., 2003; Marsa et al., 2003). Another future treatment of education and the risk of cancer could be teaching younger kids about the risk of cancer so that they know the risks earlier in their lives and some can learn to prevent the disease before they have the chance to leave education. Further research should be done on whether there is a trend between education and cancer because some studies are outdated and use old data and figures. Most older studies claim that education cannot affect cancer but more recent studies claim that it can.

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Analysis of Whether Education Can Affect the Risk of Cancer. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 2, 2023, from
“Analysis of Whether Education Can Affect the Risk of Cancer.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022,
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