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Mesothelioma in Women: Study Reveals Diagnostic Trends

mesothelioma in women

A major study of mesothelioma in women finds that women tend to contract the disease earlier in life than men do.

The analysis included 354 cases of malignant mesothelioma from a database of more than 2,800. 

While the average age for pleural mesothelioma diagnosis is 72, the average age for women to be diagnosed with any type of mesothelioma was just 60.

It could mean that the latency period for mesothelioma is shorter for women than it is in men. It could also mean that women are more attuned to mesothelioma symptoms and recognize the disease sooner. 

Mesothelioma’s Long Latency 

The latency period is the time between exposure to a cancer-causing agent and the occurrence of cancer. Mesothelioma has one of the longest latency periods of any cancer. 

Accidentally inhaling or swallowing asbestos is the main cause of mesothelioma. It can take as long as 50 years for the toxic fibers to trigger the cellular changes that lead to mesothelioma. 

For female study subjects, the median age at time of diagnosis with pleural mesothelioma was 65. (The median age is the midpoint between the oldest and youngest patients.) The median age dropped to 52 for peritoneal mesothelioma. There was no significant difference in age among the subtypes. 

The mean or average diagnostic age for pleural mesothelioma among women was 60. That compares to a nationwide average of 72 for all types, according to the American Cancer Society. 

Previous studies have found that women tend to have better mesothelioma survival odds than men. The earlier diagnostic ages may be one reason. 

Trends in Mesothelioma in Women

The new study confirms much of what was already known about female mesothelioma. Just like men, women get pleural mesothelioma much more often than peritoneal mesothelioma. About 78 percent of the cases in the study were pleural. 

Most of the mesothelioma tumors in females were the epithelioid subtype. This is also true in men. Seventy-two percent of pleural mesothelioma cases and 82 percent of peritoneal mesothelioma cases among women were epithelioid. 

This is good news because epithelioid mesothelioma is more survivable than either biphasic or sarcomatoid. 

Finally, most study subjects contracted mesothelioma because of asbestos exposure at home. This can come from washing a spouse’s work clothes or because of some other environmental exposure. In contrast, most men are exposed to asbestos at work.

Tremolite was the most common asbestos fiber type among the female patients tested. 


Pavlisko, EN, et al, “Malignant Diffuse Mesothelioma in Women: A Study of 354 Cases”, December 23, 2019, American Journal of Surgical Pathology, Epub ahead of print, https://journals.lww.com/ajsp/Abstract/publishahead/Malignant_Diffuse_Mesothelioma_in_Women__A_Study.97509.aspx

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