Learning Together Series: Women and Mesothelioma

Women and Mesothelioma: New Statistics Released

By: Devin Golden on January 14, 2020


Mesothelioma is primarily considered a “male cancer.” This characterization is due to the disease’s origin (exposure to asbestos) and situations where that origin could occur (blue-collar occupational work).

Since mesothelioma mostly affects men, most of the studies and statistics revolve around this gender. However, females can — and often do — develop this cancer. Therefore, more research into how this cancer affects women is needed.

Duke University Hospital researchers recently published a report focusing solely on mesothelioma cases involving women. This study, which was published in the American Journal of Surgical Pathology, details which form of mesothelioma most often affects this gender.


Which Type of Mesothelioma Do Women Get?

The Duke University research team studied 354 cases of malignant mesothelioma in women. Of them, around 78% of them were pleural mesothelioma and 22% were peritoneal mesothelioma.

Pleural mesothelioma forms when asbestos fibers reach the pleura, which is a cavity separating the lungs and chest wall. Peritoneal mesothelioma forms when asbestos dust reaches the peritoneum, which is a thin membrane covering the abdomen.

This breakdown is surprisingly consistent with that of males (around 80% for pleural and 20% for peritoneal). The shock is due to previous studies showing women as more likely than men to get peritoneal mesothelioma.

In a Lung Cancer International study from 2017, males comprised 81% of all pleural mesothelioma cases. However, the split was close to 50-50 for peritoneal mesothelioma cases.

The team at Duke University did mention in their report a “trend toward … peritoneal location” but added it “did not reach statistical significance.”

The study also found that women mostly get the epithelioid cellular variation of mesothelioma. In fact, according to the study’s results, they are more likely than men to get this type of the cancer. This news is fortunate for women as epithelioid mesothelioma is more easily treated than the other two cellular types: sarcomatoid and biphasic.


Mesothelioma Symptoms to Look For

Mesothelioma is a rare disease, one that few doctors have experience diagnosing or treating. The disease also stays hidden for years.

The “latency period” for mesothelioma — meaning the amount of time it takes to develop — is between 20 and 50 years. The initial symptoms are identical to those of the common cold or influenza. So many patients don’t realize they have mesothelioma until it has spread to vital organs.

Some of the common symptoms you should look out for include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest or abdominal pain
  • Fluid buildup in the chest or abdomen
  • Persistent cough
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Loss of appetite and weight
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Nausea

If you have many of these symptoms, speak with your doctor immediately. Early detection of mesothelioma goes a long way to increasing your survival time. An X-ray could uncover a mass near your lungs or abdomen, and doctors should investigate further.


What Causes Mesothelioma?

Exposure to asbestos is the only reason for mesothelioma forming, and this substance was used for commercial purposes through most of the 20th century. The prevalence of asbestos in numerous occupations put not only the workers but their wives, daughters, mothers and other female loved ones in danger.

If you ever worked with asbestos — or you had a family member do so — then you’re at risk of this cancer. Even if you are unsure whether you were ever exposed, asbestos is just about everywhere. It’s also microscopic and invisible to the naked eye. There’s no way of knowing that you’re entirely safe from its danger. Just be aware of the symptoms and take action immediately.

If you’re one of the women with mesothelioma and you’re unsure how you were exposed to asbestos, we can help. Our team has a list of asbestos exposure sites and can connect your or your family’s work history to one or multiple of these locations. Email our patient advocate and registered nurse, Jenna Campagna, at jenna@mesotheliomaguide.com for further assistance.


About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is the content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.


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