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Mesothelioma in Women

Mesothelioma is often regarded as a man’s disease, but women can also contract this aggressive cancer. Mesothelioma in women tends to manifest differently, with a longer period between exposure and onset of the disease and a better overall survival rate. However, women may face more hurdles than men in obtaining a diagnosis and pursuing justice against the companies that exposed them to asbestos.

PatriciaShelton

Medically Reviewed By:
Patricia Shelton, M.D.

Patricia Shelton

Medically Reviewed By:Patricia Shelton, M.D.

Both men and women are susceptible to mesothelioma, but women account for just 20 percent of mesothelioma cases, according to the Women’s Health Research Institute at the University of Michigan. However, this does not mean that women exposed to asbestos are less susceptible to developing mesothelioma.

The most likely explanation for the lower occurrence in women is that occupations with the highest asbestos exposure are traditionally male-dominated. When asbestos use was at its peak, most industrial occupations were closed to women. Asbestos exposure in women most commonly occurred in the home through household goods or the husband’s work clothes. 

As women gained greater access to the workplace, the likelihood of women experiencing occupational asbestos exposure increased. As a result, annual mesothelioma deaths in women increased by 25 percent, from 489 in 1999 to 614 in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Mesothelioma is an aggressive, deadly cancer in both men and women, associated with a dire prognosis with no known cure. However, significant differences in the latency, progression, and survival time exist between the genders. These disparities may ultimately help researchers discover more effective mesothelioma treatments.

How common is mesothelioma in women?

The CDC recorded 12,227 mesothelioma deaths in women from 1999 to 2020—reflecting a rate of 4.59 cases per million women. Though the number of deaths increased during that time, the annual age-adjusted rate of mesothelioma deaths declined from 4.83 per million to 4.15 per million.

However, mesothelioma in women occurs at a rate of more than six per million in each of the following states:

elderly woman

Most of these states have prominent shipyard industries. Shipyard workers experienced some of the highest asbestos exposure levels. Though shipyard workers were generally men, they often brought significant quantities of asbestos fibers home on their work clothes.

Montana most likely made this list because of the Libby vermiculite mine, which was contaminated with asbestos. The contaminated vermiculite was extensively used in homes and businesses throughout the town, directly exposing many women and children to asbestos.

Types of Mesothelioma in Women

The types of mesothelioma that may impact women include:

  • Pleural mesothelioma
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma
  • Pericardial mesothelioma
  • Ovarian mesothelioma
organism viewed under microscope

Pleural Mesothelioma Occurrence in Women

Pleural mesothelioma accounts for approximately 78 percent of mesothelioma cases in women, according to a study published in the American Journal of Surgical Pathology. Pleural mesothelioma is cancer of the membrane surrounding the lungs. This is the most common form of mesothelioma, impacting more than 80 percent of mesothelioma patients overall.

Incidence of Peritoneal Mesothelioma in Women

Peritoneal mesothelioma accounts for approximately 10 to 15 percent of mesothelioma cases overall. However, it is markedly more common in women than in men. 

A study published in the Annals of Translational Medicine analyzed the cases of 2,500 men and 700 women with mesothelioma. Peritoneal mesothelioma was diagnosed in 18 percent of women, compared to just 7 percent of men.

The Rarest Forms of Mesothelioma in Women

Pericardial mesothelioma is cancer of the lining surrounding the heart. It is exceedingly rare in both genders, accounting for less than one percent of all cases.

Ovarian mesothelioma has only been diagnosed in approximately 0.03 percent of mesothelioma cases, according to a study in the United Kingdom published in the International Journal of Surgical Pathology. This condition may be misdiagnosed as ovarian cancer.

How do women get mesothelioma?

Women generally develop mesothelioma from asbestos exposure—the primary cause of mesothelioma. Identifying the source of exposure can be more challenging for women than men, because the sources of exposure are less likely to be occupational.

Homemakers

Approximately 22.8 percent of women who die from mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos as homemakers, accounting for the largest percentage of mesothelioma deaths among women. These women could be exposed to asbestos due to their husbands’ work-related exposures, through the building materials in the home, or even through contaminated household goods.

Secondary Asbestos Exposure

The most common source of exposure in the home is secondary asbestos exposure. This occurs when someone else carries asbestos fibers into the home from another source. Typically, husbands carried asbestos fibers home on their work clothes from a workplace. 

According to the CDC, women with family members exposed to asbestos in the workplace have a tenfold increased risk of developing mesothelioma. A wife could be exposed to mesothelioma while laundering her husband’s contaminated work clothes. The asbestos fibers can also enter the air in the home, and can then be inhaled by others who live there.

Asbestos in Building Components

Asbestos was a popular building material used in nearly every aspect of home construction, from the foundation to the roof, from the early 1900s until the late 1970s. Some products were used until as late as 1990.

Asbestos building materials in good condition generally do not expose occupants to asbestos. However, as these products wear over time or become damaged, asbestos can be released into the environment throughout the home. The most common building materials that may have exposed homemakers to asbestos include:

Household Goods With Asbestos

Homemakers may have been exposed to asbestos in products they used every day. Manufacturers used asbestos in consumer goods due to its insulating, soundproofing, and fire-resistant properties. Consumer goods most likely to impact homemakers included:

  • Hair dryers
  • Curling irons
  • Oven mitts
  • Clothes irons
  • Ironing board liners
  • Curtains
  • Holiday decor with fake snow

Asbestos in Talc

Talc is a soft silicate mineral mined from the earth near asbestos, often contaminating the final product with asbestos. Talc is commonly used in cosmetic products like eye shadow, blush, and foundation powders. The most popular cosmetic talc-based product is baby powder.

Asbestos-contaminated talc was the subject of a $4.69 billion verdict our law firm won against Johnson & Johnson in the first trial linking asbestos-laden baby powder to ovarian cancer. These women had used