New statistics from health officials in Great Britain show an alarming increase in cases of mesothelioma among women. For decades, men have been far more likely to develop mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer of the lining of the lung or abdomen.
Mesothelioma develops far more often in men traditionally because they had jobs in construction, mining and manufacturing that exposed them to asbestos, a mineral fiber. Inhaling asbestos dust is closely associated with developing mesothelioma and other serious respiratory diseases, though the symptoms may not appear for decades.
Cancer Research UK, a leading non-profit cancer organization, said that in the last decade, mesothelioma had shown a 57 percent increase in incidence among women—the highest rate of increase of any cancer. Uterine cancer increased by 33 percent and skin cancer or melanoma by 49 percent in the ten-year period through 2007, the group said.
The latest data from the Health and Safety Executive indicates that mesothelioma was listed as a cause of death for 384 women and 1,865 men in 2008. Great Britain has the highest incidence of mesothelioma in the world. The death rate has been increasing for decades and isn’t projected to peak in Great Britain before 2015. In the United States, mesothelioma claims 2,500 to 3,000 lives a year, but the incidence is about half of that of Great Britain.
Cancer experts said they do not know why the incidence of mesothelioma is increasing among women. Symptoms of mesothelioma typically do not appear for 30 year to 40 years after the initial exposure to asbestos. The perception among cancer experts who reviewed the data was that many women victims had not worked in industries traditionally associated with asbestos disease and had low level exposure to asbestos.
There is some speculation that the increase is linked to asbestos-riddled schools that were built in the 1960s and 1970s. Until it was banned in the UK, asbestos was widely used in building materials such as ceiling and floor tiles and insulation in construction of schools and other buildings because of its durability and heat resistant qualities.