Asbestos and mesothelioma is an unfortunate association typically found to occur in people who worked in occupations with asbestos exposure. These include occupations such as manufacturing, automotive parts distribution and auto repair, housing construction, ship building and military service, asbestos and lung cancer are thought to be connected in a cause-and-effect way primarily in men. Now a new study suggests that women may be more vulnerable to mesothelioma than previously thought.
This new study on asbestos and mesothelioma in women, published online in the journal Environment International, reports that women who lived near a plant in Italy that used asbestos are more susceptible to developing mesothelioma than men who lived in the same area. Although the study found an elevated number of mesothelioma cases among plant workers, more mesothelioma cases were found in women in the region.
For many decades, Italy had factories that produced cement made with asbestos even after the connection between asbestos and cancer was well known. A current controversial case in the Italian Supreme Court involving asbestos-related deaths that we are following explores the culpability of the former head of a cement company for the deaths of 3,000 people from asbestos exposure.
Researchers with Italy’s Department of Preventive Medicine in Milan and England’s National Heart & Lung Institute at Imperial College London calculated the number of mesothelioma cases stemming from an asbestos cement factory that operated in Broni, Italy from 1932 to 1993. Their goal was to compare the number of cases among the workers to the number of cases in their families and those who lived near the plant. Data was collected between 2000 and 2011.
Out of 147 cases of mesothelioma they found, the researchers reported that 38 of the victims worked at the plant and 37 were workers’ family members, mostly wives who likely came into contact with asbestos dust on their husbands’ clothing. However, 72 cases of mesothelioma were reported in area residents who neither worked at the cement plant nor had a family member who did – 23 men and 49 women. “The largest malignant mesothelioma burden was among women, from non-occupational exposure,” the researchers state in their abstract.
Why would women be more vulnerable to asbestos exposure and mesothelioma? Surprisingly, medical science only relatively recently realized that women need to be studied separately from men to help understand their disease risk and response to medical treatment for many conditions. This new study shows that it is important to consider mesothelioma and asbestos exposure in this field of study.