Mesothelioma and Gender
Although mesothelioma typically afflicts men at a far greater rate, evidence suggests that gap is distorted by several factors. However, emerging evidence and trends are changing our understanding of women’s development of this disease. This shifting understanding of susceptibility is likely due to the explanation that many careers dominated by men were among the highest culprits of mesothelioma development. Among these careers are construction and other trades that involve the use of materials containing asbestos. Furthermore, military service, which has historically been a male-dominated field, posed one of the greatest risks of developing this disease. In fact, thirty percent of all individuals who develop mesothelioma served in the armed forces at some point in their life.
However, occupational exposure is not the only factor that kept the rate of mesothelioma in women down. In fact, some studies suggest women retain a higher danger of developing certain forms of this cancer as a result of their role at home. A 2002 study published in Chest indicates that in one area of Turkey, women have a far higher rate of malignant pleural mesothelioma: 159.8 per 100,000 for women and 114.8 per 100,000 in men. In this study, women often whitewashed their homes in asbestos-containing paints, which helps explain this discrepancy. Nevertheless, we can see that when directly confronted with asbestos-containing materials, women’s mesothelioma rates are correspondingly high.
However, other evidence suggests a biological component might help explain this altering statistic as women begin seeing diagnosis with mesothelioma at a higher frequency. Among these biological factors mentioned are breathing patterns, which might inhibit the particle expulsion needed to fight this disease. Pregnant women suffer from decreased lung volume capacity, further hurting their ability to engage in deeper respiration that rids the body of toxins. In addition, patient height has been identified as a factor in the deposition of foreign particles, although scientists acknowledge this area needs further study.
A Wittenoom, Australia study, which focused on the town’s crocidolite asbestos mining and milling, indicated other interesting findings concerning women’s rates of mesothelioma development. That mine operated in Western Australia from 1943 until 1966, exposing virtually all residents to dangerous levels of this material. In fact, the town does not even exist today, as it has been completely abandoned as a hazardous environment.
Although it was determined that the mesothelioma mortality rate for men was significantly higher than that seen in women, it was also seen that women needed less asbestos exposure to develop the disease. This supports the theory that women’s smaller lung capacity allows for the increased toxin retention that allows mesothelioma to develop.