CDC Report Raises Concerns: Are More Women Dying of Mesothelioma?

A woman who works in construction stands on the edge of a sunlit build site. Women like her may be at risk of asbestos exposure, which can cause malignant mesothelioma.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported new data on mesothelioma. The report focused on deaths in U.S. women, noting they were about 25% higher in 2020 versus 1999.

Malignant mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. It can take 10 to 50 years for symptoms to develop after exposure. Once diagnosed, mesothelioma life expectancy ranges from about 18 to 31 months.

CDC doctors call this a significant increase, and it may give rise to more questions than answers. Historically, women have had lower rates of mesothelioma than men. This may be because more men work in industrial and manufacturing jobs. These jobs often come with asbestos exposure risks.

If women generally experience less asbestos exposure, why did deaths increase for women with mesothelioma?

CDC Data Says More Women Died of Mesothelioma

The CDC report shows more women died of mesothelioma in 2020 versus 1999. But looking a bit further into the data reveals a twist. The rate of mesothelioma deaths for women actually dropped significantly.

The CDC's Mesothelioma Death Information for U.S. Women

  • Mesothelioma deaths: 489
  • Mesothelioma death rate: 4.83 per 1 million
  • Mesothelioma deaths: 614
  • Mesothelioma death rate: 4.15 per 1 million

In 1999, 4.83 of every million U.S. women died of mesothelioma. In 2020, 4.15 of every million U.S. women died of mesothelioma. Without taking population data into consideration, it may seem confusing that the number of deaths jumped while the death rate fell.

Population Growth Explains Drop in Mesothelioma Mortality Rate

It may seem backward that the rate of deaths dropped when the number of deaths increased. But we can illustrate the principals at play with a made-up example. Consider the following information for fake country X:

  • Year: 1999
  • Total women: 10
  • Women who died of mesothelioma: 1
  • Mesothelioma death rate in women: 1 in 10
  • Year: 2020
  • Total women: 100
  • Women who died of mesothelioma: 5
  • Mesothelioma death rate in women: 5 out of 100, or 0.5 out of 10

Looking at the number of deaths alone, one might say they jumped from 1 in 1999 to 5 in 2020. But accounting for population growth changes things. The death rate in 1999 was 1 in 10, but it came out to 0.5 out of 10 in 2020 because the population grew.

The same thing happened with the real-world CDC data. In 2020, the number of deaths was about 25% higher than in 1999. But the population of women grew even more than that. So the death rate actually fell by about 14%.

What does it mean? The mesothelioma death rate falling among women might have several implications. It may mean women are doing a better job of steering clear of asbestos. It may also mean tighter asbestos regulations are paying off.

The CDC did not say why the death rate fell. So the true meaning of this trend may remain a mystery for the time being.

CDC Report Emphasizes the Need to Minimize Asbestos Exposure

According to the CDC report, these trends mean the country should keep limiting asbestos exposure. Active asbestos mines no longer exist in the United States, but some forms of the mineral are still imported. In 2021, the United States imported 100 tons of asbestos. As such, current asbestos laws have room for improvement.

In April, regulators proposed a partial asbestos ban that could be a step in the right direction. The proposed rule was originally open for public comment until mid-June. But the comment period was recently extended through July 13, 2022. Mesothelioma advocates can voice their support on the docket until then.