The truth is that many women are affected by malignant mesothelioma, but because mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer found more commonly in men, people don’t typically associate the disease with women.

Each year, around 3,200 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with mesothelioma. Two-thirds of these cases affect people over the age of 65, and for a long time, mesothelioma has been a cancer thought strictly to affect men. Why is this, you ask? Well, there are many reasons.

Common Cancers Found in Women

Diseases like breast and cervical cancer are much more common in women than mesothelioma, with approximately 231,840 new breast cancer cases and 12,900 new cervical cancer cases diagnosed in 2015 alone. Of course, we’re bound to take note of such high numbers when there are walks, fundraisers, fashion shows, and entire months devoted to these causes (October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and January is Cervical Heath Awareness Month). Mesothelioma awareness is just as important – but it’s a cause that doesn’t get as much press or attention because it is a rarer cancer that affects a much smaller population.

The Cause of Mesothelioma and Why It’s Likely to Affect More Men than Women

As it currently stands, the only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, a toxic mineral that was used frequently for insulation between the 1930s and 1970s because of its heat-resistant properties.

In terms of gender, men do seem to be more prone to a malignant mesothelioma diagnosis because asbestos was used in male-dominated workforces like construction, the military, auto mechanic shops, mining, plumbing, and welding. Because these professions caused workers to come in direct contact with asbestos – while insulating ceilings, fireproofing rooms, etc. – men have been, historically, affected more commonly by the disease.

A closer look at the data shows that most women who’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma seem to have had secondhand asbestos exposure at some point during their lives. This means that although women may not have been directly exposed (by working in close contact with the mineral) they could still be exposed to the fibers through contact with a friend or family member. Think about how many men have worked in the above named professions; and how many fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons have probably come home unknowingly with asbestos fibers on their shoes, clothing, and hair.

Women who entered the workforce during World War II could also have had firsthand exposure to asbestos if they worked in factories or shipyards, and, as it has been widely documented by researchers, it could take up to 20-50 years from exposure to asbestos for mesothelioma symptoms to appear.

The scary thing is: Asbestos is still used in the U.S. today, though not as habitually as it was used before the 1970s, and women are still being diagnosed with this terrible disease.

Famous Lung Cancer Victims

There are 2 women who come to mind, specifically, and one world-changing event. On September 11, 2001, New York City’s Twin Towers came crashing down after terrorist planes flew into the buildings. These collisions sent debris into the air, covering the surrounding areas with a layer of dangerous toxins. As many Americans know all too well, this tragedy claimed the lives of almost 3,000 people, and it is said that the toxins released into the air have caused many people to develop lung-related illnesses years later.

Marcy Borders, the 9/11 “dust lady,” and Donna Summer, the famed singer, both died of respiratory illnesses. TMZ claims that Summer’s illness was caused by asbestos; Borders, who had always been healthy before her cancer diagnoses hypothesized that her illness was caused by asbestos – and other elements of the lethal, toxic mixture that went airborne in the building collapse – as well.

No one should have to endure mesothelioma and lung-cancer-related illnesses, whether male or female, but it is important to bring attention to the women that are affected by this lesser-known disease. Even one woman affected is one too many, no matter how or when she was exposed. Let’s bring awareness to this cause and stand together in the fight against mesothelioma in women.