Gender bias in mesothelioma cases

14 April 2022

Mesothelioma, the incurable cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibres, remains a pernicious disease, with symptoms only becoming apparent several decades after the initial exposure to asbestos

Sharine Burgess, a partner in Shoosmiths serious Injury team specialising in industrial injury and illness cases, comments:

The time lag between exposure and the onset of symptoms often means that people simply don’t make the connection between their previous work and their illness, nor do they consider getting legal advice. A claim, if successful, can fund the palliative care and specialist equipment to make things more bearable for a mesothelioma victim, for whatever time they have left. Even if we are instructed after death, it is still possible to pursue a claim that will at least give the family some sense of justice and, in many cases, provide vital financial security for those left behind.”

Mesothelioma in the lungs (pleural mesothelioma) is much more common than mesothelioma in the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma) and although it is a relatively rare form of cancer, around 2,700 people are still diagnosed with the disease in the UK each year.  Data published by Cancer Research UK indicates that from the early 1990s – 2000s mesothelioma incidence rates increased in the UK by around 57%, with mortality rates being highest in people aged 85 to 89. Even by 2016 – 2018, 58% of all mesothelioma deaths occurred in people aged 75 and over.

Mesothelioma remains more common in men than women, principally because it was men who tended to work in occupations and environments where exposure to asbestos without adequate protective equipment was more likely. That’s certainly the case with two recent claims handled by Sharine, where action was taken by relatives after the individuals sadly died. The first involved a carpenter who worked erecting and dismantling temporary classrooms at schools, while the other also featured a carpenter who worked on developments including building prefab council houses. Both were exposed to asbestos when they worked across the West Midlands during the 1970s and 1980s.

Greater awareness of the dangers of asbestos and its declining use means that mortality rates for mesothelioma are projected to fall by 46% in the UK by 2035 to around three deaths per 100,000 people. However, Cancer Research UK also maintains that over the last decade, while mesothelioma mortality rates in males have remained stable, rates in females have increased by a fifth (20%). This apparent increase is difficult to explain as women are far less likely to have worked in the ’obvious’ occupations and industries that used asbestos.

Epidemiological studies by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) suggest that the increasing incidence of mesothelioma in women may be unwitting exposure due to disturbance by others working nearby, while around a third of mesotheliomas in women are a result of domestic exposure, such as washing contaminated work clothes for example. Whatever the reason for the increase in mesothelioma deaths, especially among older women, there may be a cause of action and a claim can be investigated by Shoosmiths specialists.



This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024

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