Doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have just reported a surprising trend in mesothelioma. Even though exposure to asbestos is down overall, the mesothelioma death rate is rising among women. The trend was especially pronounced in Minnesota and six other states, which reported annual, age-adjusted death rates among women that were higher than 6 per million.
Mesothelioma is an incurable cancer caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos. It attacks the lining of the lungs in most cases, although it can also occur in the peritoneum and in other sites. Historically, most research has associated mesothelioma primarily with men who worked in industries where asbestos was prevalent, such as power plants, mines, construction, ceramics, electrical work, railroads, auto and aerospace mechanics and Navy shipyards, for example.
However, there have also been many cases of mesothelioma among consumers of asbestos products, which range from home systems and insulation to gardening products. And, some mesothelioma victims have been identified who were exposed to asbestos primarily from contact with a family member’s soiled work clothes.
This last way of getting exposed to asbestos seems to be more widespread than many had suspected. In the CDC’s new study, the job with the highest number of mesothelioma deaths was homemaker (23%). The industry with the largest proportion of deaths was healthcare and social assistance.
An increase in mesothelioma deaths among women
The real surprise in this study was the rapid increase in mesothelioma deaths among women. Between 1999 and 2020, these deaths rose significantly – an increase of 25%.
According to the authors, around 85% of mesothelioma cases in men are attributed to work-related asbestos exposure. Women are less likely than men to work in industries with heavy exposure to asbestos, but they do work in some of the industries with the highest death rates, including homemaking, healthcare and education services.
Nevertheless, this study shows the potential danger of take-home exposures, where someone working in an asbestos-heavy industry gets exposed and the asbestos fibers travel home on their clothing, where family members can also be exposed. The authors of the study urged doctors to “maintain a high index of suspicion” about the possibility of asbestos exposure among the family members of exposed workers.
If you or a family member has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or asbestos-lung cancer, it is quite possible that the company that exposed you to asbestos was well aware of the danger but made little to no effort to protect workers and consumers, much less family members of those directly exposed. That’s why it is important to discuss your situation with a lawyer who has significant experience in asbestos disease cases.