As people around the world celebrated International Women’s Day earlier this month, we’re going to continue the theme of female issues by looking at how mesothelioma affects women.

Medical and legal professionals have suggested that women’s experience of mesothelioma may differ to the experiences of men in respect of diagnosis, treatment and legal processes.

Mesothelioma UK are involved in a study, Gendered Experience of Mesothelioma Study (GEMS), which aims to gain a better understanding of men and women with mesothelioma, and explore any gender difference which may exist.

Mesothelioma UK states that from the initial consultation it appears that women may be less likely to be aware of their exposure to asbestos and the associated risks. Women have also been found to be less likely to be able to identify a clear occupational link to asbestos exposure, which may be why they are less likely to be diagnosed quickly.

The research suggests that women encounter assumptions from professionals that exposure occurred from secondary exposure such as from work clothes of male relatives rather than as a result of their own occupation exposure. These factors are likely to be a contribute to the reason why women are less likely to be successful when it comes to applying for government benefits and pursuing a legal claims for compensation.

The worldwide incidence of mesothelioma has always been lower for women than for men. According to statistics published by Cancer Research UK in females in the UK, mesothelioma is not among the 20 most common cancers, with around 460 new cases in 2017. In contrast, for males in the UK mesothelioma is the 17th most common cancer, with around 2,200 new cases in 2017.

The majority of men who are diagnosed with mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos whilst working in industries which historically were not open to women.

This does not mean, however that women are not victims of occupational exposure. Many women have been exposed to asbestos whilst working in schools, hospitals and offices where asbestos was (and often still is) in the fabric of the buildings. Asbestos in a building is dangerous if it is disturbed which often happens either through wear and tear or when renovation work takes place and the asbestos dust becomes airborne.

Since the early 1990s, mesothelioma incidence rates have increased. Rates in females have almost doubled (96%), and rates in males have increased by more than half (54%).

The latency period (i.e. the time between exposure to asbestos and developing mesothelioma) can be as short as 10 years or as long as 50, but the average is thought to be approximately 35 to 40 years. It is therefore hoped that the number of people, male and female, will begin to reduce in time.