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New Study Finds Mesothelioma Fatality Rates Rising Among Women

A new study published in May shows a significant increase in malignant mesothelioma deaths among women over the past 20 years. The CDC-issued research analyzed Cause of Death records from the National Vital Statistics System from the years 1999 to 2020. It was found that the annual number of mesothelioma fatalities rose 25% from 1999 to 2020 among women 25 years of age and older in the United States.

Data not only showed a considerable rise in death rates among women, but also evidence that women are severely underrepresented in mesothelioma documentation and research. Information on the long-term trends in mesothelioma deaths among women is still limited. However, researchers are hopeful that this newly-published study provides data that can help decrease asbestos exposure and reduce mesothelioma cases in the future.

Malignant mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that attacks the lining of internal organs, most commonly in the lungs or abdomen. Asbestos is the only known cause of this disease. Frost Law Firm, PC is a nationwide mesothelioma and asbestos law firm with decades of experience defending the rights of mesothelioma patients. Our website offers comprehensive, data-based educational materials for those who wish to learn more about malignant mesothelioma.

Malignant Mesothelioma Statistics Among Women

It’s believed that roughly one in four mesothelioma cases occur in women. Although the disease is most commonly associated with male patients (for reasons we will explore further below), thousands of women in the U.S. have died from mesothelioma.

  • 489 women died of mesothelioma in 1999
  • 614 women died of mesothelioma in 2020
  • The year 2017 saw the highest annual fatality rate with 672 deaths
  • 12,227 women 25 and older died of mesothelioma between 1999 and 2020
  • Over 90% of fatalities were among women aged 55 and older

When considering malignant mesothelioma statistics among women in the U.S., it’s important to note that there are limits on the available data in this field. One significant limit comes from the widespread misdiagnosis of mesothelioma among women. The prevalence of misdiagnosis is related to an incorrect assumption (which exists even in the health care profession today) that mesothelioma occurs almost exclusively in male patients. It is unknown how many female mesothelioma victims were wrongly diagnosed before their death.

Similarly, data is limited by the fact that many death certificates did not list the type of mesothelioma, or even the type of cancer at all. Researchers acknowledge that many women who died from an undisclosed form of lung or abdominal cancer could have been victims of mesothelioma.

A third limit arises from a more indirect link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma in many women. This makes it more difficult for doctors to identify the cancer as being caused by asbestos exposure. This fact may also help to explain why women’s fatality rates continue to rise, despite the decrease in asbestos use in the industrial sector.

Based on the data collected through the study “Malignant Mesothelioma Mortality in Women — United States, 1999–2020,” the following sources of asbestos exposure were found to be a factor in documented cases.

Occupational Exposure

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring fiber which was used widely in building materials for much of the last century. Asbestos is no longer actively mined in the U.S. as it once was, and restrictions on its use are much more stringent. But as of 2022, it is still being imported and used in many areas of construction and manufacturing.

Tighter regulations and better protective gear have shielded many employees from direct contact with asbestos. There are still many ways, however, that a person can be exposed at work. Many people face asbestos exposure merely by working in a building with friable (easily crumbled) asbestos present.

Although the percentage of work-related asbestos exposure was lower for women than for men, many women came into contact with the cancer-causing fiber through their employment. The top industries in which asbestos exposure occurred were found to be:

  • Health Care and Social Assistance (including nursing, psychiatric care, and home health care)
  • Education
  • Manufacturing and Production
  • Retail Trade
  • Public Administration
  • Finance
  • Insurance
  • Professional, Scientific, and Technical Service Industries
  • Accommodation and Food Services
  • Hairstyling and Cosmetology
  • Transportation and Warehousing
  • Real Estate
  • Waste Services
  • Information
  • Agriculture and Forestry
  • Hunting and Fishing
  • Construction
  • Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation
  • Homemaking

Non-Occupational Exposure

Non-occupational exposure can sometimes be more severe, as the victim often lacks any form of protection or knowledge of the presence of asbestos.

Researchers found that individuals came into contact with asbestos through:

  • Natural exposure near asbestos mining sites (most frequently in Montana)
  • Living in residential buildings constructed of asbestos-containing materials
  • Second-hand contact from family members who work in high-risk industries
  • Proximity to shipyards (particularly in Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin)
  • Asbestos found in personal hygiene and cosmetic products, such as talcum powder
  • Demolition and home renovation projects involving asbestos-containing materials

Women With Mesothelioma Are More Likely To Be Misdiagnosed Than Men

Gender and sex inequality has long been a serious problem in cancer research and diagnosis. Multiple studies have found women, females, and transgender and gender nonconforming individuals to be highly underrepresented in cancer research and clinical trials—and more likely to be misdiagnosed by treating physicians.

This is especially true for malignant mesothelioma. Due to social, cultural, and historical factors, it is one of the most severely misdiagnosed diseases among women. Quite often, mesothelioma is simply not considered an option if the patient presenting with symptoms is a woman.

Mesothelioma is extremely difficult to diagnose, under any conditions. Symptoms can easily be misinterpreted as indicators of other, more mild conditions. Additionally, signs of mesothelioma may not appear until decades after initial contact with asbestos. This makes diagnosing the cancer a challenge in any patient. However, the challenge is particularly difficult for women.

The industries most closely associated with asbestos exposure (i.e., mining, manufacturing, construction, and military) have traditionally been male-dominated fields. Throughout parts of history, roles in these fields were not open to women at all. But this does not mean that women were not victims of asbestos exposure during this time period.

One study determined that a woman living with a family member who worked in an asbestos-related industry was put ten times more at risk of developing mesothelioma. Because the link between the male laborer and his occupation was more direct, many cases of second-hand exposure in the home went undiagnosed. More medical attention was paid to the male mesothelioma patient who worked in a shipyard than to his daughter who was exposed daily to the asbestos brought home on his clothing.

While this scenario may no longer be the norm, biases in the diagnosing and treatment of mesothelioma persist. Even as women began to take on roles that were traditionally seen as male roles, science and research progressed, and legislation took aim at controlling asbestos use, women were already at a disadvantage when it came to health care. In modern oncology, hundreds if not thousands of women receive late diagnoses—or are never diagnosed at all—because mesothelioma is seen as a disease that affects men.

What Is the Survival Rate for Women Diagnosed With Mesothelioma?

Women generally have somewhat more favorable survival rates after a mesothelioma diagnosis than men. This may be related to factors such as better overall physical health, amount of exposure, and time of diagnosis. Scientists also believe there may be some effects related to hormonal differences, but research is still being done in this area.

After a malignant mesothelioma diagnosis:

  • The median survival period for all patients is about one year
  • Approximately 45% of women survive to one year after diagnosis, compared to only about 38% of men
  • Women have a roughly 17% five-year survival rate after diagnosis, compared to about 7% in men

Legal Options for Women Diagnosed With Malignant Mesothelioma

If you were diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma following occupational or non-occupational asbestos exposure, you are not alone. As experienced asbestos lawyers, we understand the impact of this vicious form of cancer on you and your loved ones. It is our mission to bring justice to families and victims who were exposed to a carcinogen without their knowledge and through no fault of their own.

Contact Frost Law Firm, PC to have a conversation with an experienced mesothelioma lawyer at no cost to you. We’ll begin with a free case evaluation to determine your legal options for recovering financial compensation for you and your family. Through decades of practice, we understand all aspects of the legal processes for seeking damages after a malignant mesothelioma diagnosis. We have the ability to provide you with honest, compassionate, and informed legal guidance.

Our Experience Is Personal

Scott L. Frost’s Family Experience with Lung Cancer

For most of his life, Scott L. Frost’s father, who was in the construction industry, worked with and sold products containing asbestos without knowing the materials were dangerous. He was diagnosed with lung cancer 40 years after starting his career, leading Scott’s family to fight like they had never fought before.

Pictured here with his wife of over 50 years, Scott’s father eventually succumbed to the cancer. Since then, Scott has made it his mission to do everything in his power to make sure corporations understand how dangerous asbestos is and prevent future generations from suffering as his family did, as well as support research that may lead to finding a cure.

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