Mesothelioma, once primarily associated with men working in industries with high asbestos exposure, like construction and shipbuilding, is increasingly being diagnosed in women. This shift in demographics has raised concerns and warranted a closer examination of the possible causes. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the nuances of mesothelioma in women, exploring its diagnosis, causes, and legal recourse.

Mesothelioma Diagnosis in Women

Traditionally, mesothelioma has been viewed as a disease predominantly affecting men. However, recent studies have shown that women are not immune to this aggressive cancer. 

Extensive research spanning decades has shed light on a concerning trend: more women are being diagnosed with mesothelioma. In recent studies, 25% of all new mesothelioma cases in the U.S. are diagnosed in women. 

Pleural mesothelioma, which affects both men and women, constitutes 75% of cases. A study conducted by Duke University in 2020 revealed that approximately 78% of women diagnosed with mesothelioma have the pleural type. 

Common symptoms experienced by both genders include chest pain, difficulty breathing, and coughing. 

Peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the abdomen, is the second most common type diagnosed in women. Accounting for only 20% of all cases, twice as many women die from peritoneal than pleural mesothelioma. According to the CDC, since 2011, more women have died from peritoneal than any other type of mesothelioma. 

Ovarian cancer has also been correlated to the use of asbestos-containing talcum powder products, such as baby powder, finishing powder, and other skincare and cosmetics.  A 2015 study found the use of talc increases the risk of ovarian cancer by 30% to 60%.

Why an Increase in Mesothelioma Cases in Women?

Several factors contribute to the rising incidence of mesothelioma in women:

Occupational Exposure

 With more women entering traditionally male-dominated fields such as industrial and manufacturing jobs, occupational exposure to asbestos, the primary cause of mesothelioma, has become a significant concern. 

Second-hand Asbestos Exposure

Women who live with individuals working in asbestos-related industries face the risk of secondary exposure. This occurs when asbestos fibers are brought home on clothing or other materials, inadvertently exposing family members to the carcinogen, asbestos.

The CDC reports that women with family members who have been exposed to asbestos in the workplace are ten times more likely to develop mesothelioma.

Exposure from Household Talcum Powder Products

Women have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and ovarian cancer due to the alleged presence of asbestos-contaminated talcum powder products like baby powder. 

Talc, a mineral used in these products, is often found alongside asbestos in nature. Inhalation or application of talcum powder in the genital area may lead to asbestos exposure, increasing the risk of developing mesothelioma or ovarian cancer. 

Talcum powder lawsuits are holding name brand companies, such as Johnson & Johnson and Avon accountable for selling talcum products, knowing its relation to asbestos and mesothelioma diagnosis. 


Women Are More Likely To Be Misdiagnosed, Why? 

A struggle in the prognosis for women with mesothelioma is that it is often misdiagnosed originally, leading to the aggressive cancer growing. There are a few reasons it takes the diagnosis to take longer in women. 

Gender Bias in Healthcare

Healthcare providers may not immediately consider mesothelioma when evaluating female patients, as they may not fit the stereotypical profile of those at risk. Societal factors such as gender bias in healthcare can influence how symptoms are interpreted and treated, potentially leading to underestimation or dismissal of women’s health concerns. 

Variety of Symptoms

The symptoms of mesothelioma, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue, overlap with those of other more common conditions, leading to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. 

Furthermore, women are more likely to develop peritoneal mesothelioma than men.  Affecting the lining of the abdomen, it has a different presentation than the more common pleural type, which is symptomatic in the lungs. Healthcare providers may not be as familiar with the symptoms of mesothelioma or may attribute them to other abdominal conditions.


Women Have Higher Rates of Survival 

Interestingly, despite often originally being misdiagnosed, studies show women tend to have a slightly better prognosis compared to men. 

According to a study published in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery, women diagnosed with mesothelioma have a 5-year survival rate of 13.4%, significantly higher than the 4.5% observed in men. This statistic indicates that over 13% of female mesothelioma patients survive for 5 years or more following their diagnosis.

Possible Contributing Factors to Higher Survival Rates of Mesothelioma in Women

  • Lower Occupational Asbestos Exposure – Women have traditionally had lower levels of direct occupational exposure to asbestos compared to men. Lower exposure levels means a decreased risk of developing mesothelioma and potentially better prognosis.
  • Predominance of Peritoneal Mesothelioma in Women – Peritoneal mesothelioma often responds better to treatment compared to the more common pleural mesothelioma.
  • Women are Often Diagnosed at an Earlier Age – Younger Patients are generally less likely to experience additional health complications and are more equipped to tolerate intensive treatments for mesothelioma.
  • Potential Biological Factors – Findings from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons study indicate that estrogen receptors may play a role in slowing the spread of epithelioid cancer tumors.

Treatment Options for Women with Mesothelioma

Receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis can be overwhelming, but understanding the available treatment options can empower women to make informed decisions about their healthcare journey. While there is currently no cure for mesothelioma, various treatment modalities aim to alleviate symptoms, slow disease progression, and improve quality of life.

Some treatment options include: 

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Palliative Care

Legal Options for Women with Mesothelioma

Women diagnosed with mesothelioma have legal avenues to seek compensation for their suffering. Depending on the circumstances of exposure, they may pursue claims against negligent employers, manufacturers of asbestos-containing products, or companies responsible for the distribution of contaminated talcum powder. 

Legal options include filing lawsuits, participating in class-action settlements, or seeking compensation through asbestos trust funds established by bankrupt companies.

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Written by Richard Stewart

Writer, Content Coordinator and Outreach Director

Richard Stewart is a writer, content coordinator and outreach director with over 12 years of experience covering asbestos exposure, mesothelioma, and treatment options. He is passionate about spreading awareness for asbestos and mesothelioma and helping victims find the information and resources they need online.

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Sources

  • Pavlisko, E. N., Liu, B., Green, C., Sporn, T. A., & Roggli, V. L. (2020). Malignant Diffuse Mesothelioma in Women: A Study of 354 Cases. The American Journal of Surgical Pathology. Retrieved June 4, 2024, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31876584/
  • Taioli, E., Wolf, A. S., Camacho-Rivera, M., & Flores, R. M. (2014). Women with malignant pleural mesothelioma have a threefold better survival rate than men. The Annals of Thoracic Surgery. Retrieved June 4, 2024, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24928677/
  • Mazurek, J. M., Blackley, D. J., & Weissman, D. N. (2022b). Malignant mesothelioma mortality in women — United States, 1999–2020. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 71(19), 645–649. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7119a1