We’ve long known that prolonged exposure to certain toxic substances can cause cancer, and asbestos is no exception. Asbestos exposure has been causally linked to mesothelioma, a rare cancer.
Mesothelioma causes the growth of tumors that affect the lining of the lungs or stomach. Pleural mesothelioma refers to the disease attacking the lung lining, while peritoneal mesothelioma refers to the disease attacking the stomach lining.
Who is most likely to be affected by mesothelioma?
For many decades, men were the predominant sufferers of mesothelioma by a significant margin. The reason for this was simple: men worked in environments where the risks of exposure to asbestos were high.
Their jobs ranged from military or first responder services to industrial work in the construction and manufacturing industries. These were fields of work where women were nowhere to be found, widely regarded by society as ‘men’s work.’
Today, the number of mesothelioma diagnoses among women is rising. The most logical reason for this is the increased gender parity in the workplace.
Women now work in professions that were previously the province of men. Examples include female police officers, paramedics, and firefighters. Firefighters are at an increased risk as they attend fire scenes in old buildings that still contain asbestos fibers in the insultation.
Women now also serve in the military forward-area zones in combat areas. While the use of asbestos in construction is unheard of today in many countries, like the United States, it is still relatively common in some regions of the world, like the Middle East.
Female military personnel in conflict zones, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, have been exposed to a lot of toxic substances, such as asbestos.
Indirect exposure figures have also climbed
People have contracted mesothelioma without having had direct contact with asbestos, which accounts for the female infections in years during which women weren’t directly exposed to it.
Their link to the substance was indirect; their husbands or sons were being exposed to asbestos. The women would wash their clothes that contained tiny asbestos fibers or clean the furniture to which the fibers had transferred from the work clothes.
There is still a substantial risk that a loved one could contract mesothelioma through indirect exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma bears stark similarities to lung cancer in that passive smokers are at high risk of getting lung cancer even though they do not smoke.
Treatment options: are women at an advantage?
The treatment plan prescribed by a doctor for a patient with mesothelioma will depend on how advanced the cancer is. When the tumors are limited to one part of the body, curative treatment protocols include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or a combination thereof.
Once the disease has reached an advanced stage, there is little hope for a cure, and so palliative care is prescribed, aiming to ensure that the patient remains comfortable for the remainder of their time.
Mesothelioma tumors are divided into three subtypes: sarcomatoid, epithelioid, and biphasic. A 2017 study revealed that women with tumors of the epithelioid subtype responded better to treatment than men. Interrogation of the results has revealed that the presence of higher levels of estrogen in women is the likely cause of this.
Studies suggest that women tend to become aware of their illness and seek treatment earlier than their male counterparts, thereby giving them a better chance of recovery. There is also evidence that the symptoms set in at a younger age for women than they do for men. However, because mesothelioma is still a stereotypically male disease, they are more likely to be misdiagnosed.