Asbestos-related illnesses have long been associated with the construction industry, but it’s not just people who work in these roles who are at risk of exposure. Read on to find out how women can be exposed too…
Asbestos has long been outlawed in the UK, as the significant health risk posed by the material has been brought to light. While asbestos was once widely used as a building material, direct exposure now commonly occurs when construction workers are tasked with dismantling structures built before the ban was put in place in the UK.
While this remains true, that doesn’t mean asbestos exposure is exclusive to construction workers. There is a potential that anyone can be exposed to asbestos, including women who have never had any links with the construction industry.
Asbestos may lead to asbestosis or pleural thickening claims, which means it’s important to take precautionary steps to reduce the chances of exposure. To learn more about asbestos exposure in women, read on…
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral, which is mainly composed of soft and flexible fibres. These fibres have plenty of attractive properties, including high resistance to heat, electricity and corrosion. This is why asbestos was once used so widely in the construction industry.
Despite these properties, asbestos is no longer used in the majority of developed countries. This is because, when ingested, the microscopic fibres become trapped in the body, which inevitably leads to various health complications.
What Are the Effects of Asbestos?
When asbestos fibres are trapped in the body, the immune system tries to attack them, like they would any other foreign body. However, the body can do nothing to destroy them, which means that the immune system will only damage the surrounding tissue.
This begins a vicious cycle. The tissue will repeatedly heal, get damaged and heal again. As this continues to occur, the rate of cell division in different areas of the body increases. The more cell division that occurs, the higher the likelihood of errors when the cells copy themselves, leading to the formation of cancerous cells.
There are several illnesses directly associated with asbestos exposure. In the vast majority of cases, asbestos related illnesses are incurable. Conditions resulting from asbestos exposure include:
- Pleural effusion
- Pleural plaques
- Pleural thickening
Another condition resulting from asbestos exposure is mesothelioma, which has been found to be an increasingly common illness amongst women.
Mesothelioma Rates in Women
Since the early 1990s, studies have found that the rates of mesothelioma in women have almost doubled – increasing by 97 percent. Interestingly, the rate of mesothelioma in men has only risen by 51 percent.
Coupled with this, the number of women dying from mesothelioma is similarly on the rise. The past decade has seen the death rate for women with mesothelioma increase by 20 percent, while men’s mortality rates have remained largely stable.
How are Women Affected by Asbestos?
So, if women aren’t exposed to asbestos through a male-dominated industry such as construction, how might they be exposed? Exposure is likely to be either direct or indirect:
Women can develop asbestos related illnesses through direct exposure, just the same as men do. This is the case even though fewer women work, or have previously worked, in occupations that tend to involve direct asbestos exposure.
Instead, women may be directly exposed to asbestos in professions where this type of exposure is not immediately apparent. For example, women working in the following industries may come into direct contact with asbestos without realising:
- School teachers, school secretaries, and teaching assistants
- Retail workers
- Bank employees
- Office workers and secretaries
- Clerical workers
- Factory workers
It’s also been proven that many women come into contact with asbestos through what’s known as second-hand exposure. This might occur for a number of reasons, including:
- Washing work clothes that are covered in asbestos fibres
- Being in close contact with someone who has asbestos fibres on their clothes
- Asbestos fibres becoming embedded in furniture or soft furnishings when a family member has worn contaminated clothes
Misdiagnosis of Asbestos Illnesses in Women
One of the biggest issues related to asbestos exposure in women is misdiagnosis. Of course, the threat of misdiagnosis is something everyone who has an asbestos-related illness will have to potentially contend with, but women tend to struggle with this more often than men.
It may come as little to surprise to learn that the misdiagnosis of women traditionally stems from the fact that the jobs associated with exposure are typically male dominated.
It’s also the case that the early symptoms of certain asbestos illnesses, such as mesothelioma, are rather vague and non-specific. Ongoing coughs, bloating, chest pains and disrupted bowel movements can be quickly written off. This is particularly true if someone isn’t able to explain exactly why they might have been exposed to asbestos.
How Are Asbestos Illnesses Treated in Women?
Depending on the type of illness and when it’s diagnosed, the recommended treatment will vary. The treatment options on offer will be similar for both women and men. They will include:
- Radiation therapy
One of the most notable differences between the treatment men and women receive is the age at which they are diagnosed. Despite the prevalence of misdiagnosis, it’s been found that women are still diagnosed at a younger age than men, which means they’re more likely to be in better health and more open to different treatment options as a result.
Do You Have Any More Questions About Asbestos Exposure in Women?
As you’ve now learned, women can be just as susceptible to asbestos exposure as men. This is the case despite not working in industries that are more commonly associated with the material, like construction.
Have you got any more questions about asbestos exposure in women? Feel free to leave a comment below so we can keep the discussion going.