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Women and mesothelioma diagnosis: 3 things to know

Mesothelioma has long been known as a deadly occupational disease affecting men who were exposed to asbestos while working in building and construction trades. Symptoms of mesothelioma resulting from such exposure often don't appear until after a long latency period of 10 to 50 years.

But mesothelioma is by no means a disease that only affects older men. What about the diagnosis of mesothelioma among women?

Here are three things to know.

Women have been disproportionally affected compared to men by second-hand exposure to asbestos.

When a worker brings asbestos fibers home on their clothing, hair or skin, it can expose family members to those fibers. With this exposure comes the risk of possibly developing asbestos-related diseases.

Historically, a large percentage of the workers bringing asbestos fibers home have been men. And the second-hand exposure has resulted in an elevated risk of developing mesothelioma among women and children in those households.

If you did laundry for a husband or parent who worked in the building trades, you may therefore have been exposed to asbestos without knowing it.

Detecting symptoms of mesothelioma can be especially difficult for women.

For both genders, diagnosing asbestos-related diseases is difficult. As we explained in a previous post, this is partly because mesothelioma symptoms can take a long time to appear after exposure.

But it is also far too easy to overlook women's symptoms of asbestos disease because they may look like other conditions that affect women.

For example, in one recent case, a woman who suffered secondhand exposure to asbestos fibers experienced anemia, weight loss, exhaustion and shortness of breath. One doctor initially thought these were symptoms of postpartum depression. Follow-up tests led to the correct diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma.

There is evidence that women respond better to treatment for mesothelioma than men.

Mesothelioma is a devastating diagnosis, regardless of gender. Usually the life expectancy after diagnosis is only 12 to 21 months.

But experimental treatments for mesothelioma are increasingly available, with women especially positioned to benefit from them.

Recent evidence suggests women respond better to treatment than men. In one study, researchers found the survival rate among women to be three times higher than for men.

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