Mesothelioma and other asbestos conditions tend to be seen as illnesses that affect men. This is because the nature of the work which resulted in people being exposed to asbestos was mostly manual, historically carried out by men. Males are therefore, more likely to be exposed to high levels of asbestos and so more likely to suffer with an asbestos-related condition. Women tended to be exposed from secondary sources, for example, by washing contaminated work clothing.
Incidence of mesothelioma in men and women
In 2017, mesothelioma was the 17th most common cancer for males with around 2,200 new cases a year whereas in females, mesothelioma is not in the 20 most common cancers and there were only around 460 new cases in 2017.
Not only is the incidence of mesothelioma different for men and women, but the approach to treatment also differs.
Study of nearly 19,000 pleural mesothelioma patients
A nine-year study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, which looked at almost 19,000 pleural mesothelioma patients, has looked at other ways gender affects the treatment of mesothelioma.
Patients diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma between 2004 and 2013 were included and out of the nearly 19,000 participants, over 4,000 were female.
Women less likely to receive aggressive treatment
It was found that women are less likely to undergo surgery and other aggressive treatments. The study found that although a higher percent of females met the criteria for mesothelioma surgery, they are less likely to opt for this treatment. The same applied for chemotherapy treatment.
Women live longer
Women are more likely to survive longer with mesothelioma than men. It was found that a year after their diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma, 45% of women had survived, compared to 38% of men.
One reason it is thought that female mesothelioma patients outlive their male counterparts is that they are younger and healthier at diagnosis. The average age of diagnosis for women is 60, compared to 72 for men, this could be crucial to prognosis.
The reason for this difference in age at diagnosis is still up for discussion. Some people believe that there is a shorter latency period for women whereas others suggest men are less in tune with their bodies, don’t recognise their symptoms and will wait longer before seeking medical attention.
Type of mesothelioma
The type of mesothelioma someone has will also affect their survival. Researchers found that women were more likely to have epithelioid mesothelioma, rather than the sarcomatoid or biphasic sub-types of the disease. Epithelioid mesothelioma is usually much more responsive to treatment and so survival will be better.
Whilst this is very interesting and informative research, the study concludes that “further research to understand factors that lead to gender disparities in malignant pleural mesothelioma is warranted.”
No matter your gender, age or type of mesothelioma, your treating medical team with advise you on the best course of treatment for you.
Barsky, AR, et al, “Gender-based Disparities in Receipt of Care and Survival in Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma”, May 2020, Clinical Lung Cancer, Epub ahead of print, https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S1525730420301613
Pavlisko, EN, et al, “Malignant Diffuse Mesothelioma in Women: A Study of 354 Cases”, December 23, 2019, American Journal of Surgical Pathology, Epub ahead of print, https://journals.lww.com/ajsp/Abstract/publishahead/Malignant_Diffuse_Mesothelioma_in_Women__A_Study.97509.aspx