The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that cancer rates are rising among women nationwide. 

Scientists are still struggling to interpret the results of this recent study. However, it appears that researchers likely underestimated the risk of occupational and domestic asbestos exposure in women. 

Como we have discussed before, many women—even women who never worked with asbestos themselves—were indirectly exposed to this carcinogen at home, often through a parent or a spouse. 

Understanding Asbestos Exposure in Women

CDC: 1 out of 5 women with mesothelioma reported themselves as homemakers. 

Exposición secundaria al asbesto (second-hand / family exposure) caused health damage in people who didn’t work around asbestos, but lived with someone who did.

We know today that asbestos is anything but safe. 

However, the story of asbestos was not always so simple. 

Un type of naturally-occurring mineral, asbestos is incredibly strong and extraordinarily resilient. Its inherent resistances to heat, electricity, and corrosion have made it attractive to people from cultures across the world. Even in prehistoric times, people made extensive use of asbestos, baking it into ceramic cookware to forge fire-resistant vessels that could likely last for years. 

While asbestos has a longstanding reputation as a “mineral milagroso,” production only became a global phenomenon in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution. It was used to fireproof machines and construct durable tenements that could be sold or rented at low cost. 

Asbestos was used in buildings, worksites and products throughout the 20th century.

Asbestos was slow to penetrate the American market, but by the end of the Second World War, it was considered an attractive alternative to more expensive minerals. Many companies considered asbestos an integral part of their operations, using it to fabricate a variety of different materials, from vinyl kitchen tiles to concrete shingles y cosmetics

The United States’ relationship with asbestos reached its apex in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But, by this time, many people had begun to realize that asbestos exposure seemed to cause serious health problems in those who worked with or around it. 

Asbestos and Illness  

Asbestos exposure, even in small quantities, can cause problems for anyone—no matter their age, their gender, or their occupation. 

We know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that asbestos is a potent carcinogen that can cause a wide range of serious and potentially life-threatening medical conditions. These conditions include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  1. La Asbestosis

El asbesto no es a chronic lung disease caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers. These fibers can scar the lungs and inflame surrounding tissue. Asbestosis is not life-threatening, but it can cause uncomfortable symptoms, like shortness of breath, that can severely impede victims’ quality-of-life.  

  1. Cáncer

Asbestos fibers can wreak havoc on the inside of the body, inducing cellular-level changes that can lead to the formation of malignant tumors. Oncologists believe that asbestos exposure could cause cancers of the lung, larynx, and ovaries

  1. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a common set of conditions that affects more than 15 million people nationwide. Asbestos is believed to either cause or exacerbate COPD-related symptoms. 

  1. Pleural Effusions

Pleural effusions, sometimes called “water on the lungs,” is the accumulation of excess fluid between the layers of the pleura, the membranes that line the lungs. Effusions can cause varied respiratory symptoms, including chest pain and difficulty breathing. They are often diagnosed alongside cancer. 

  1. Placas pleurales

Pleural plaques are small areas of thickened tissue in the pleura. They are usually caused by asbestos exposure but can take up to 30 or more years to form. Many people with plaques report no noticeable symptoms, but this condition could forewarn more serious health problems. 

However, there is perhaps no disease more closely associated with asbestos exposure than malignant pleural mesothelioma. 

Assessing Your Risk for Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma

Malignant pleural mesothelioma, or MPM, is an unusually aggressive type of cancer with a high mortality rate. It affects the mesothelium, the membrane that lines the chest and encases most of the body’s major organs. 

Mesothelioma is most often diagnosed in people who have histories of occupational asbestos exposure, but it can have other causes, too. 

The most common sources of asbestos exposure include the following: 

Exposición Ocupacional al Asbesto

Occupational asbestos exposure is asbestos exposure that occurred in the workplace. It is the leading cause of asbestos-related illnesses like malignant pleural mesothelioma. This can include la exposición militar al asbesto por veterans.

Exposición Secundaria al Asbesto

Secondary asbestos exposure, sometimes referred to as “take-home asbestos exposure” or “domestic asbestos exposure,” is asbestos exposure that occurred outside of work. 

Most people who have suffered second-hand asbestos exposure were inadvertently exposed by a parent or spouse. This is because, before the dangers of asbestos were well-known, many workers would come home covered in asbestos dust. 

Once inside a home, asbestos could transfer to other surfaces, including furniture; it could even attach itself to other family members’ garments inside the washing machine. 

Exposición al asbesto ambiental

Environmental asbestos exposure is asbestos exposure caused by environmental sources of asbestos, whether naturally-occurring deposits or corporate pollution

Asbestos Exposure and Women

Malignant pleural mesothelioma is most often diagnosed in white, working-class men with a history of occupational asbestos exposure. However, asbestos does not discriminate, and many people who were once presumed to be low-risk have since begun falling sick with life-threatening asbestos-related conditions. 

En a recent review of malignant pleural mesothelioma-related mortality, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that annual MPM diagnoses among women have increased significantly from 1999 to 2020. 

The Underrated Risk of Secondary Asbestos Exposure in Women

This increase is attributable, in part, to some women having been exposed to asbestos at work. 

The C.D.C.’s findings suggest that it can be very difficult to generalize risk profiles among women. While 85% of men with mesothelioma worked with or around asbestos, occupational exposure appears to account for a smaller percentage among women. 

Domestic asbestos exposure caused 20% of the mesothelioma cases in women.

Of women diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, for instance, about 15% worked in either the health care or the social assistance industries. 

But considerably more female patients reported their occupations as “homemakers,” or stay-at-home wives. Many of these women lived in cities that had shipyard industries, or past asbestos exposure associated with vermiculite mining. 

These findings indicate that, in many cases, women who are diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma most likely suffered secondary asbestos exposure. 

According to the C.D.C., its latest report underscores the very urgent need for women who lived with a parent or spouse involved in a high-risk asbestos professions to take a proactive approach to their health.