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Because mesothelioma takes decades to develop and commonly affects men who worked heavily around asbestos, it is relatively rare for young individuals, particularly women, to get it.

However, asbestos exposure, the most common cause of the disease, is a problem we continue to face today. Young women are being diagnosed with mesothelioma often due to secondhand exposure. This was the case for well-known mesothelioma survivor Heather Von St. James, who was exposed to asbestos fibers on her father’s dusty work jacket when she was a child. Read more about her story here.

Factors Affecting Survival Rates in Women vs Men

Dr. Andrea Wolf, Thoracic Surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital, has found that younger women respond to mesothelioma treatment with greater survival rates. While no standard of care for mesothelioma currently exists, Dr. Wolf believes they are closer to determining what the standard of care for mesothelioma should be thanks to the findings of these recent studies.

In an interview with the MCA, Dr. Wolf states, “Over the next 10 years, I anticipate progress in adjuvant therapies to prevent progression and recurrence of disease.”

Men who worked in the military, construction, or any other vocation that involved disrupting or handling structures containing asbestos are cited as having direct and prolonged exposure, whereas women — wives, daughters, etc. — were often exposed indirectly.

Furthermore, Dr. Wolf explains that response to treatment is also influenced by factors including differences in both hormonal exposure and the biology of the disease in men versus women, along with the actual ability to complete treatment.

Hope for the Future

Despite these variables, it’s likely that further studies will aid our understanding of the survival advantage women seem to have. As Dr. Wolf optimistically states, “Given advances in immunotherapy, medications affecting hormonal pathways, and success in hormone modification in other malignancies, such as breast and prostate cancer, I believe further studies will help us understand the differences in survival and make this a promising avenue to improve survival for mesothelioma patients.”