The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released potentially disturbing new data regarding an increase in the number of fatal malignant mesothelioma cases among women. In a report that was released on May 13, 2022, the CDC states that the number of deaths due to mesothelioma in women “significantly increased” from 489 in 1999 to 614 in 2020.
It’s also notable that the number of mesothelioma deaths among men has dropped in recent years. What's the reason for the difference? According to CDC Respiratory Health Physician Dr. Jacek Mazurek, the increase in the number of mesothelioma deaths among women over the past two decades is likely linked to asbestos exposure “many years ago.” Generally, there is a span of approximately 32 years between the time of initial exposure and the development of fatal mesothelioma in women.
Number of mesothelioma deaths among women vs. death rate
It is important to note that while the number of mesothelioma deaths in women increased by nearly 25% over the past decade, the age-adjusted death rate actually decreased from 4.8 per 1 million women in 1999 to 4.2 in 2020. In addition, when you account for population growth in the United States, the total death rate among women caused by mesothelioma actually fell by about 14%. This could indicate that women are doing a better job of avoiding asbestos exposure and/or that tighter asbestos regulations are paying off.
CDC encourages continued minimization of asbestos exposure
While the report does not attempt to define the reason for the decrease in the mesothelioma death rate among women, the CDC does state that these trends indicate a need for the U.S. to continue limiting asbestos exposure across the entire population.
While there are no longer any active asbestos mines in the United States, some forms of it are still being imported. In fact, in 2021, there were approximately 100 tons of asbestos imported into the U.S., making it clear that our current laws still have room for improvement.
Legacy asbestos and indirect contact are concerning contributors to mesothelioma deaths among women
One of the most frequently asked questions we hear from clients with mesothelioma is “How could I have been exposed?” Men are often aware of job-related asbestos exposure from working in industries such as manufacturing, construction, and shipyards. However, recent data shows that 22.8% of the women who died from mesothelioma were homemakers. Social assistance and healthcare were also leading industry groups, accounting for 15.7% of mesothelioma deaths among women. Of these, school teachers accounted for 5.6% and registered nurses for 4.9%.
Since these occupations were not traditionally or historically associated with asbestos exposure, the statistics raise questions about how the women came into contact with cancer-causing asbestos. The authors of the CDC report state that they believe the majority of cases among women were due to “legacy exposure,” caused by working in older buildings. In this situation, asbestos could have been kicked up during renovation or maintenance or spread into the air as a result of sweeping, dusting, or cleaning. Direct contact with a family member who inadvertently brought asbestos home from the workplace is another possible contributor to this phenomenon.
The states with the highest rates of death due to mesothelioma in women were Minnesota, Maine, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Washington, and Oregon – all states that are involved in the shipping industry. Studies show that U.S. Navy members and shipyard workers who served between the 1940s and 1970s are at higher risk for developing mesothelioma than those who have worked in any other occupation. Now, it seems that these workers may have also inadvertently brought the cancer-causing fibers home to their families.
Vigilance and avoidance of asbestos exposure are still needed
The CDC report concludes by saying that ensuring a continued decline in mesothelioma cases will “require meticulous control of exposure activities such as ship and building renovation and demolition, and in asbestos remediation and disposal.” It also notes “the need for ongoing surveillance.”
Based on the long latency period between the initial exposure to asbestos and a mesothelioma diagnosis, it’s not surprising that the number of recent mesothelioma deaths among women has begun to rise. In the United States, the use of asbestos peaked in 1973 at 803,000 metric tons. As of 2021, this number had drastically decreased to a low of 320 tons in 2021. Much of the potential for asbestos exposure today is due to the substance remaining in certain old buildings.
Despite an overall decline in mesothelioma death rates, both women and men must remain conscious of the unknown risks they may be exposing themselves to. This could include potential dangers from the products you use and the places you frequent. Keep in mind that exposure today could result in deadly cancer many years from now.
What to do if you’ve developed mesothelioma
Individuals who have been exposed to asbestos fibers may not begin to experience symptoms of malignant mesothelioma for anywhere from 10 to 50 years after initial exposure. Sadly, once a patient has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, life expectancy ranges from around 18 to 31 months. In addition, the cost of medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses as well as the mental stress of dealing with a deadly disease can emotionally and financially devastate you and your family.
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with mesothelioma and has been exposed to asbestos, you may be able to receive compensation to cover your medical bills, illness-related expenses, and, possibly, emotional strain. Contacting an experienced mesothelioma lawyer is the best way to determine whether you may have a case worth pursuing.
The attorneys at Cooney & Conway have been helping mesothelioma patients get the compensation they deserve since the 1970s. The firm has also long been a respected leader in the practice of asbestos and mesothelioma litigation for decades. Contact us today to request your no-obligation, free case evaluation.