Mesothelioma affecting increasing numbers of Women

02 August 2017

Mesothelioma, an asbestos related cancer, is a disease commonly associated with men who have worked with asbestos. Yet in the last decade it is reported that there has been a greater increase in the incidence rates of women suffering from mesothelioma (25%) as compared to men (6%).

With around 430 women diagnosed with this illness every year and mesothelioma now being the 20th most common cause of cancer in women in the UK, why are we seeing more women affected by this disease?

Asbestos exposure

Asbestos was used extensively in many industries in the 1960’s and 1970’s including construction, Power stations, Shipping and Dockyards and Railway works. It was widely used as pipe and boiler insulation, fireproofing material, brake linings and in building panels. Although these industries at that time commonly employed men, sadly women have not escaped the health risks associated with asbestos.

Asbestos fibres bought home from the workplace on work clothes have led to tragic cases where a wife is exposed from washing her husband’s overalls/work clothes, or from children hugging their father when he returns from work still wearing his dusty clothes.

Women have also been put at risk from exposure to asbestos in their own work places. Many public buildings, such a schools, hospitals and office buildings built before 2000 may contain asbestos. Although blue and brown asbestos use was banned in this country in 1969, white asbestos was not banned until 1999.

There have been many cases where school teachers for example, have been exposed to asbestos, through simply pinning work into walls containing asbestos, or where parts of the building have been disturbed due to age and use. Asbestos is believed to still be present in over 75% of schools in this country and there are many campaigners calling for asbestos in schools to be removed.

Asbestos only becomes dangerous when the fibres are disturbed and become air borne, enabling them to be inhaled or ingested, and although there are regulations in place now to manage the presence of asbestos, from the cases we are seeing asbestos has and can still be  disturbed, inadvertently or otherwise.

The other difficulty in establishing where a woman may have been exposed to asbestos is that it can take many years for someone exposed to present with symptoms, anywhere between 20-50 years on average. Trying to recall after this length of time where she may have been exposed to asbestos is challenging particularly where, for example, she or her husband have not worked directly with asbestos.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) their research suggests only around a third of mesothelioma’s in women are due to their occupation or as a result of living with an asbestos exposed worker. The implication being that women’s exposures are not always easy to identify.

As a consequence it may be harder or take longer to diagnose an asbestos related illness like mesothelioma as a woman may not even be aware she has been exposed to asbestos.

Mesothelioma is a cancerous tumour which can affect the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma), the lining of the heart (pericardial mesothelioma) and the lining of the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma). Mesothelioma is a fatal illness, although there are a number of treatments and surgical interventions which can increase life expectancy.  It is reported that almost a third of women in England diagnosed with mesothelioma between the ages of 15-49 survive their disease for 5 years or more.

Whilst it is estimated 1 in 710 women will be diagnosed with mesothelioma during their lifetime, there is hope while trials and treatments continue to develop.

Women affected by an asbestos related illness can seek legal advice from specialist asbestos lawyers, who can help them identify where they may have come into contact with these deadly fibres.

There are also support groups for women and others effected by asbestos related cancer and please do contact Shoosmiths for further information on 03700 868686.



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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