Malignant mesothelioma has long been considered a disease of men. This is due in large part to the fact that the disease affects men up to four times more often than women. Additionally, because the disease has such a long incubation period – sometimes as long as forty years – it is also primarily a disease of elderly men.
Mesothelioma is linked to asbestos exposure in industrial work environments that are usually predominantly male. However, there are some women who have engaged in these dangerous occupations and were exposed via high risk work environments.
Methods of Exposure
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that has been in use almost since the beginning of time. There are records of its use as early as 3,000 BC. In more recent history, was used largely in building materials, including flooring, wall plaster, roofing, and insulation. Although the use of asbestos building materials was largely discontinued in the late 1970s, there are still older buildings that contain large quantities of asbestos.
Asbestos is fairly safe, as long as it remains intact. However, if it is damaged or broken, small pieces can become airborne and be inhaled. Women who live in houses that contain asbestos are at risk if the houses are remodeled or heating and cooling components are removed or altered without taking precautions to remove the asbestos first.
Wives and children of asbestos workers can be exposed if the workers carry asbestos fibers home on their clothing. The fibers from clothing can also get into food and beverages, which are then ingested. For example, in 2007 there was a case of a 49 year-old Australian woman who was exposed to asbestos at the age of five.
Women who work in buildings that contain asbestos, such as old office buildings, are also at risk if the asbestos in the building becomes damaged. For example, there was a case in 1998 of a 27 year-old Israeli woman who was exposed to asbestos from a building site.
Finally, women who live in countries, like Turkey, where asbestos is abundant in the ground, could also be at high risk for exposure. Although very high levels of naturally occurring asbestos are rare in the United States, there are 13 states that are known to have significant quantities of naturally-occurring asbestos.
Issues with Mesothelioma in Women
One of the biggest issues the women with mesothelioma face is that they may not realize that they are vulnerable to the disease, and may not recognize the symptoms. Additionally, because the disease is not as common in women, and because women might not have a history of working in occupations at risk for exposure, healthcare professionals might also not screen for the disease. Both situations can seriously delay diagnosis and treatment. The good news is that, when they do develop mesothelioma, women tend to have a slightly better prognosis.
Another issue is that because women often do not work directly with asbestos, it can be difficult to trace the method of exposure. For example, someone who gets exposure from standing near a building site might not realize that the site was the source of the exposure. Not being able to accurately trace the source of the asbestos often puts women at a disadvantage when it comes to asbestos and mesothelioma lawsuits. Because men are more likely to have worked in environments with direct exposure to asbestos, it is often easier for them to trace and document the exposure.
If you believe that you have been exposed to asbestos, you should consult with your doctor, even if you don’t appear to have symptoms. Because the disease can often take years to develop noticeable symptoms, and it is often not diagnosed until it is in the later stages, early detection can help you get the appropriate treatment. Even in the very early stages, thickening of the membrane surrounding the lungs could appear on an X-ray, and asbestos fibers could appear in lung tissue biopsies.
If your doctor confirms that you show signs or exposure, or of the beginning stages of mesothelioma, you should consider contacting a lawyer that specializes in asbestos cases. A good attorney should be able to tell you if you have a case, and might even be able to help you trace the source of your exposure.