Although the incidence of mesothelioma cancer is far greater in men, the ability for both men and women to contract the disease remains a possibility. Mesothelioma is a destructive cancer without cure, with as many as 3,000 new cases reported in the U.S. every year. The cancer stems from the use of a once-popular insulator, asbestos, which was commonly used in a variety of applications. That past popularity makes it a continued threat today as products containing the material are still abundant.
Exposure Among Men and Women
The discrepancy in cancer occurrence between the sexes is largely due to traditional occupational differences between men and women. The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry explains that “people most likely to have high exposure to asbestos are workers who come into contact with asbestos while on the job.” While men generally took the construction, mining and military positions that put individuals at the highest risk of coming into contact with asbestos, women in the past frequently worked in the home, coming into contact with these toxic minerals less frequently and without the prolonged intensity.
In fact, many women who developed mesothelioma did so as a result of contact through a secondhand source, like hair and clothing. The tiny particles would affix to the husbands of these women and they would be brought home. When wives of these laborers washed their clothes or came into close contact with their husbands, they were then exposed to the dangerous fibers which could enter their bodies and lead to the development of this disease.
Today, the social role of women is far different and increasingly more women enter the workforce every year. Luckily, U.S. industry has largely regulated against the use of this material, effectively lowering the amount of asbestos people come into contact with. However, a snapshot of other nations that do not have the same regulation of this carcinogen highlights the universal risk asbestos poses, to both sexes. In fact, according to Thorax, a British medical journal, well differentiated papillary mesothelioma “can be either localised or diffuse, and is more commonly found in the peritoneum of women.” Papillary mesothelioma affects the epithelial cells of individuals, which is the tissue membrane surrounding internal organs.
Furthermore, an Occupational and Environmental Medicine article explains that “in the few countries with published data on trends, the annual incidence of peritoneal mesothelioma among women closely mirrors the pattern among men.” While occupation and intensity of exposure alter the incidence of mesothelioma in women, few biological factors can be indicated as certain determinants in the development of this disease for each sex. The occurrence of mesothelioma depends largely on external factors.
Nevertheless, both sexes remain equally at risk for developing mesothelioma when the material is in the home or other frequently used buildings. Because of its popularity in construction as an insulator, asbestos-containing products were used heavily in nearly all construction projects in the U.S. from the 1930s to the 1970s. Furthermore, when asbestos ages and its structural integrity becomes compromised, the mineral enters its most dangerous form, which is as a dust that can easily be inhaled or swallowed.