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Mesothelioma and Women

Malignant mesothelioma is a form of asbestos cancer that statistically affects men more often than women. This is not because women are less genetically predisposed to the disease, however. Historically, men, in comparison to women, were more often employed at asbestos jobsites which placed them in direct contact with dangerous asbestos products. Although mesothelioma disease has indeed been diagnosed in women, on-the-job exposure is often not the reason for the development of this disease in this population.

Some studies, including one published in the journal Chest, have also demonstrated that women who develop mesothelioma are much more likely to acquire peritoneal mesothelioma, the abdominal form of the disease, with increasing exposure attributing to as much as a five-fold increase in mesothelioma risk factors. The reasons why this is true are not clear and studies continue in an effort to pursue the answer to this question.

Reasons for Mesothelioma in Women

Because many women were part of the work force during World War II, some of them were regularly exposed to asbestos in shipyards, factories, and other places where they contributed to the war effort, and some of these women developed mesothelioma. These cases were indeed a result of direct exposure to asbestos.

Many of the women who are diagnosed with mesothelioma, however, have been deemed victims of second-hand asbestos exposure. This means they had no direct exposure to the toxic mineral but were perhaps subject to exposure by an indirect means. Generally, this occurred most often during the years when men worked in chemical plants, oil refineries, power plants, steel mills and factories that made widespread use of asbestos. The men - often husbands or fathers of the women who would later develop mesothelioma - would bring asbestos dust home on their clothes and the fibers would be inhaled by others living in the home. Often, these victims were the women who would wash their clothes. As a matter of fact, a 1997 study conducted by Durham (VA) and Duke University Medical Centers was able to identify a history of asbestos exposure in about 75 percent of the women who participated in their study; more than half of those 75 percent had suffered exposure due to household contact with asbestos workers.

In some cases, though rarely in the United States, women are exposed to naturally-occurring asbestos. This is asbestos that is found in the ground and is usually of the very toxic amphibole variety. This accounts for a high rate of mesothelioma cancer in countries like Turkey and its surrounding areas, where asbestos is abundant.

Additional Information about Asbestos Exposure, Mesothelioma and Women

Workplace Exposure

During World War II many women took employment outside the home, many to support the war effort. As a result, a number of women went to work in shipyards, factories and other locations where they could easily be exposed to asbestos.

Secondary Exposure

Some women who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma were likely to have received second hand exposure from their husbands or fathers who worked in jobs where asbestos was used heavily.


It is a myth that women are not susceptible to developing mesothelioma. Historically, not as many women worked outside the home when asbestos use was prevalent but those who did were just as susceptible to developing mesothelioma cancer as men.


Although mesothelioma has historically affected far more men than women, there have been a number of studies conducted that look at the relationship of asbestos exposure and mesothelioma in women.

View Sources


Malignant mesothelioma in women. Anat Pathol. 1997;2:147-63.

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