There are a number of asbestos related illnesses, and these include mesothelioma, which is a very rare form of cancer. Overwhelmingly, men suffer from these conditions. This is due to the fact that exposure generally happens in male dominated fields of employment, including construction and the navy. As such, men are four times more likely to suffer from it than women.

That said, environmental and secondary exposure is also possible, which is why the condition also exists in women. Some women have also had occupational exposure, for instance in the textile industry. And, very rarely, there is no known reason for the exposure at all.

Women do have a marginally better prognosis with mesothelioma than men. Treatment seems to be more effective on women, although it is not known why. That said, mesothelioma is a very aggressive form of cancer, so the prognosis is never good. Of particular concern for women is that it can be more difficult for them to prove exposure, which means they will struggle significantly to make a personal injury or wrongful death claim.

Diagnosing Women with Mesothelioma

There are different forms of mesothelioma, with pleural mesothelioma (affecting the lungs) being the most common form. Men are five times more likely to have this type of mesothelioma than to have peritoneal mesothelioma (affecting the abdomen). With women, however, it is different. While pleural mesothelioma is still more common, it is only twice as common as peritoneal mesothelioma. A third type of the disease is pericardial mesothelioma (affecting the heart), and the fourth is testicular mesothelioma, which naturally does not affect women.

Generally speaking, those who suffer from mesothelioma can find out where they were exposed to asbestos. In rare cases, which are generally in women, this exposure cannot be determined. For instance, they may develop WDPM (well-differentiated papillary mesothelioma), which occurs almost exclusively in women in their 30s. This usually affects the peritoneum, but it can also be found in the pleura. The prognosis for this condition is significantly better than other forms of mesothelioma, with a life expectancy of between three and 10 years.

Another form of mesothelioma where exposure is often not found is deciduoid peritoneal mesothelioma, which is extremely rare and found almost exclusively in women. In fact, to date, there have only been 45 documented cases of this form of mesothelioma. Some of these cases have been elderly women and men, but it is usually found during cesarean sections or pregnancy.

Mesothelioma Treatment for Women

Treatment will depend largely on the diagnosis, but is generally the same as that offered to men. This includes radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery, and palliative care. If the cancer is in later stages, surgery can be offered but is generally no longer curative in nature.

There has been a study that demonstrated that surgery usually has better outcomes in women. Some 702 cases were looked at, where the lung affected by mesothelioma was removed. The cases looked at epithelial tumors and non-epithelial tumors, which generally react differently to treatment. The results were that women who had epithelial tumors had a far better prognosis than men, with a 27 month average life expectancy after surgery. For men, this was just 16 months. With non-epithelial tumors, however, there was an average 10 month life expectancy for men and women alike.

Women and Asbestos Exposure

There are three main ways in which someone is usually exposed to asbestos:

  1. While at work
  2. Through the environment
  3. Through secondary exposure

Environmental and secondary exposure are the most common forms of exposure in women, although there are a few cases of occupational exposure as well. Unfortunately, because mesothelioma is so rare, particularly in women, there are not yet any reliable statistics on who is mostly affected and where, although it is accepted that occupational exposure is most common in men.

Occupational exposure usually happens during blue-collar jobs, including in insulators, factory workers, mechanics, and industrial jobs. These are traditionally male-dominated jobs, which means most patients are older men. However, some women have had occupational exposure as well, although generally not in labor-intensive jobs. Rather, there have been some school teachers who have had exposure because the buildings contained asbestos. Similarly, interior decorators and even some bakers have developed mesothelioma.

Environmental exposure in women has been studied through residents of an asbestos mining town in Australia. This is known as the Wittenoom Cohort Studies. Between 1943 and 1992, some 3,000 females lived there. Eight percent of them had died from malignant pleural mesothelioma by 2004.

The most common way for women to get asbestos exposure, however, is through secondary exposure. This means that others in their household bring fibers into the home that they got because of their jobs. For instance, men who were employed in the shipbuilding industry before the 1990s experienced heavy exposure, and their clothes, skin, and hair would be covered in asbestos, which they would then bring into the home. Women would often do their laundry and become exposed in that manner. Secondary exposure is incredibly dangerous, as can be seen in the case of Barbara Fitt and Evelyn Power, who both died from mesothelioma through secondhand exposure from their husband and father, respectively.

Susceptibility to Mesothelioma in Women

There has been a study conducted in Turkey, which tried to see the difference in relative risk between men and women. It was found that the risk was significantly higher for women: 159.8 per 100,000 women compared to 114.8 per 100,000 in men. However, other studies have not been able to produce the same results. This may be, however, due to the fact that Turkish properties were often ‘whitewashed’, using soil that contained asbestos in both the inside and outside of homes.

Asbestos Related Conditions in Women

Women do not only develop mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure. Their breathing patterns are known to be different from men, and there are also significant differences in overall body height and lung capacity. The larger someone’s lung capacity is, the more fibers that person is likely to breath in. This is still speculative, but may account for why some women are more likely to develop mesothelioma than others.

Women have been exposed to asbestos in many countries all over the world. This is also seen in the ever increasing number of women who are diagnosed with mesothelioma, and who file claims for this. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that these numbers will start to drop any time soon, not in the least because of the long latency period of the various asbestos-related illnesses.