Approximately 75% of mesothelioma diagnoses are in men, with 25% in women. Women tend to have better survival rates after diagnosis than men.
One year from a mesothelioma diagnosis, 45% of women are still alive versus 38% of men. There are several reasons this is the case: (Asbestos.com)
- Women are usually diagnosed at a younger age and are in better health.
- Women may have less overall exposure to asbestos than men.
- There may be hormonal reasons why mesothelioma is more aggressive in one gender than another.
Another study found that the five-year survival for women with mesothelioma was 13.4% and only 4.5% for men. For those who are 50 and younger, the five-year survival rate for women was 38% and only 17% for men. (NIH.gov)
Women also had better mesothelioma survival rates at the one and five year marks no matter how they were treated. Researchers also found that women made more improvements after surgery than men. Of patients who had cancer surgery, 66% of female patients made it to one year, while only 54% of men did.
How Mesothelioma Is Diagnosed in Women
hysicians use the same diagnostic tools to diagnose mesothelioma in men and women: X-rays, CT scans, PET scans, and biopsies. Almost 75% of asbestos cancer cases in men are pleural mesothelioma affecting the lung lining. It is the most common type of mesothelioma.
But women are slightly more likely to be diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma. This is mesothelioma in the abdominal cavity and organs.
- Women are diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma about twice as often as peritoneal mesothelioma.
- Men are five times more likely to be diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal variety.
A 2018 study in Italy also found different ratios of diagnosis for pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma in men and women. Among 16,400 patients, the ratio of female-to-male cases was .038 for pleural tumors and 0.70 for peritoneal tumors.
This means there were 2.6 cases of pleural asbestos cancer in men for each case in women. There were 1.4 male cases of peritoneal mesothelioma for every female case. (NIH.gov)
Rare Types of Mesothelioma Cell Types in Women
Almost everyone who gets mesothelioma was exposed to asbestos. In very rare cases, some people have developed the disease without asbestos exposure. These patients frequently young women who get this rare form of cancer.
Well-Differentiated Papillary Mesothelioma
One of the rare types is well-differentiated papillary mesothelioma. It is most often diagnosed in women in their 30s. It is not strongly connected to asbestos exposure. While it mostly grows in the peritoneum, it has been diagnosed in the pleura as well.
People diagnosed with WDPM have a better outcome than regular mesothelioma patients. Life expectancies can range from three to 10 years.
Deciduoid Cell Type
Deciduoid cell is another rare type of mesothelioma that mostly affects women. The term ‘deciduoid’ reflects the cell’s resemblance to changes in cells that occur early in pregnancy. It is most often diagnosed in young women. There are only 50 cases documented at this time in the medical literature.
Women and Mesothelioma Misdiagnoses
Every patient faces the possibility of a misdiagnosis of mesothelioma. But it may happen more in women. Because the disease is much more common in men, some doctors do not consider mesothelioma as a possibility in women.
Most asbestos exposure occurs at male-dominated occupations in heavy industry, energy, manufacturing, and the military. Few women work in these heavy labor jobs.
Also, symptoms of asbestos cancer early on are vague and nonspecific. A regular cough, occasional constipation, and pain the chest and stomach can be written off as minor illnesses.
A pleural mesothelioma patient also may be told they have asthma or the flu. Women with peritoneal mesothelioma may be told they have irritable bowel syndrome or menstrual problems.
Mesothelioma Treatment in Women
But women may have treatment advantages over men. They are diagnosed younger and are often in better overall health. The 2018 ASCO Treatment of Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma Guidelines states that patients need to have decent heart and pulmonary healthy to handle aggressive surgeries. Women are more likely to meet these guidelines than men.
With stage 1 or 2 mesothelioma, surgery can be undertaken with the idea to cure the disease. Surgeons will try to take out entire cancer and try to cure the patient. Younger women tend to be better candidates for this type of surgery. They usually are in better physical condition and tend to recover faster and more completely than older men.
But if the mesothelioma is in stage 3 or 4, patients may not be able to be cured with surgery. Instead, it can be used as a palliative treatment to reduce symptoms and pain.
For example, part of a lung and the lung lining can be removed to ease pain and make it easier to breathe. Pleural effusions also can be drained to provide more room for the lung to expand.
Women More Likely To Be Diagnosed With Peritoneal Mesothelioma
Further, women are more likely to get peritoneal mesothelioma, which is more survivable than pleural mesothelioma. Heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HEPEC) combines surgery with chemotherapy and is used in peritoneal cases. This approach can lead to the woman living for many years in some cases.
A 2018 International Journal of Hyperthermia study looked at the outcomes of 75 peritoneal cancer patients treated with HIPEC. The median disease-free survival was almost five years, and the median overall survival was eight years. About 45% of the study population was women. (NIH.gov)
Data also has shown that women usually live longer than men after pleural mesothelioma surgery, too. One study looked at 700 cases of pleural mesothelioma and found that women with epithelial-type cancer lived longer after surgery.