Gendered experience of mesothelioma study

This post was written by Aliyah Akram, who was on the advisory group to the study.


In a study published this month, a research team from the University of Sheffield examined gendered experiences of mesothelioma. The full report is certainly worth a read by anyone practicing in this area but a number of findings are of particular interest to asbestos lawyers. 

The study relied on quantitative and qualitative data, both from interviewing patients with mesothelioma and from analysing results from the MORE survey and data from HASAG. 

Statistics show that mesothelioma is a significantly more common in men (83% of cases) than in women. The difference in experiences of the disease go beyond occurrence, however. Mesothelioma tends to be more aggressive in men, more invasive and metastasising. Unsurprisingly, therefore, women tend to have far higher survival rates. But further evidence shows that there may a steeper dose-response curve in relation to asbestos exposure for women. This would suggest that women are more susceptible to developing mesothelioma. 

This seems of particular relevance when the report considers how women are exposed to asbestos. Men tended to be exposed in construction-related occupations where they directly handled asbestos. For women para-occupational exposure via a family member’s overalls was common, but a significant proportion were exposed through their work. That exposure tended to occur due to asbestos materials in the working environment, rather than because they worked with asbestos directly. As we know, certain occupations which are dominated by women put them in the types of buildings in which asbestos use was especially prevalent, particularly schools and hospitals. 

The study also noted that women are less likely to seek legal advice and when they do are less likely to receive compensation. Female interviewees expressed concern that seeking compensation is too costly, time-consuming or would make the experience of living with mesothelioma more challenging than it already is. The researchers noted different societal expectations, where men are expected to provide financially but women were concerned about avoiding the emotional burden of legal action.

For asbestos lawyers, two of the report’s practice notes are worth bearing in mind:

  • It is important to take an occupational history which assesses the working environment as well as the work which was carried out. 
  • Further steps need to be taken to raise awareness of compensation routes for those who have not worked with asbestos directly.

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