While the majority of patients that doctors diagnose with mesothelioma are men (over 80%), the number of women developing illness later in life is steadily increasing. This is because of secondary or indirect exposure. Men largely develop mesothelioma from direct exposure to asbestos (or other cancer-causing substances) in the workplace or while on the job. When women who are married or living with them come in contact with contaminated skin, hair, or clothes, poisonous asbestos fibers can easily spread.
Doctors Are Finding Mesothelioma in More Women
Asbestos-related diseases (ARDs) like mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer among others are most prevalent in men coming in contact with toxins in the workplace. For women, studies show that approximately 50% impacted by malignant mesothelioma were domestically exposed to asbestos from relatives. Occupational exposures primarily include asbestos, but can also encompass smog, radon, and carbon dioxide to name a few.
Occupations at Risk
Some jobs carry a higher risk for dangerous levels of asbestos exposure than others. Additionally, geographical location also impacts exposure risks. This is because before doctors knew asbestos-caused cancer, the toxic mineral was used in the creation of an abundance of industrial materials used all over the United States and the rest of the world. Industries at high risk for dangerous exposure to asbestos are:
- Construction, Demolition
- Chemical Processing
- Mining and Milling
These are just a few industries impacted by asbestos. Though asbestos has been partially banned, women and men are still encountering it in buildings and infrastructure today.
Evolving Trends for Mesothelioma Development in Women
The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre in Canada observed 337 patients with pleural mesothelioma for about 30 years between 1991 and 2019. Doctors utilized specific anti-cancer therapies that improved survival times and quality of life.
When researchers studied clusters of women patients who already had an ARD, they discovered higher proportions of women were developing illness at younger ages. The median age of women at diagnosis paired with the number of female patients grew significantly between the subset observed between 1991 and 1995, to those observed in 2010 to 2019.
More specifically, from 1991 to 1995, 11.6% of patients with mesothelioma were women around the age of 75. Patients studied from 2010 to 2019 encompassed an increase in the number of women to 20.5%. Their age at the time of diagnosis also decreased to approximately 66 years old.
Other Things to Consider
Other factors that affect mesothelioma development in women are age at exposure, household occupations, length and severity of exposure, asbestos fiber type, and genetic predisposition. Studies also show that women tend to develop mesothelioma at younger ages than men in general.
It’s also important to note that while the number of women diagnosed with mesothelioma increased, survival rates and life expectancies are increasing as well. This is because doctors and scientists are developing better treatments, advancing current therapies, and making medical discoveries that improve mesothelioma prognosis in both women and men. Even so, treatment options for women are the same as those for men and tend to have similar success rates.
While new use and instances of asbestos have decreased significantly since the 1970s, it’s important to understand how past use of the toxin is affecting women today. Will the rate of mesothelioma development continue to rise? Only time and further research can tell.