Nearly every type of cancer — apart from female-specific cancers like ovarian and uterine — affects men at higher rates than women. In addition, men tend to die of cancer more often than women with the same diagnoses.
These are 2 results of a 2011 study published by the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute. With many cancers, researchers are unable to explain why incidence and mortality rates differ so dramatically between the sexes.
With mesothelioma, however, there is a clear understanding of why men are stricken far more than women. It all comes down to work-related risk factors.
Mesothelioma — an aggressive form of cancer that can affect the lungs, abdomen, or heart — is caused by exposure to asbestos. Often, it can take 20 to 50 years for a person to develop this cancer and show symptoms.
Men are more likely to be diagnosed with mesothelioma because the professions in which asbestos has been used the most tend to be male-dominated, especially the further back in history you go.
For example, even though today more women are firefighters — a job that has significant asbestos exposure risks, particularly in the past — the first paid female firefighter wasn’t hired until 1973. Even now, only about 3.7% of paid firefighters are women.
Other professions where asbestos exposure is high have also been traditionally male-dominated, including oil refinery work, plumbing, pipefitting, steel milling, and welding. Men have higher exposure rates due to daily work in these jobs, so it makes sense that they’d now be affected by mesothelioma in greater numbers than women. In fact, according to Everyday Health, mesothelioma is 4 times more common in men than women because of workplace exposure.
Know the Symptoms
As with most other types of cancers, men tend to experience shorter survival rates with mesothelioma compared to women. A 2014 study cited hormone differences, tumor biology, as well as asbestos exposure as possible factors.
Women tend to develop mesothelioma from secondhand exposure (e.g. a spouse coming home from a construction job with asbestos on his clothing), while men have more direct exposure, and for longer periods of time.
For more insights on different professions that might have put you at risk, visit our occupations pages, and be aware of the warning signs of mesothelioma. If you’re a man who has been in a high-risk job, even if it was decades ago, be sure to speak with your doctor about any mesothelioma-related symptoms you may be experiencing.