It comes as no surprise that the vast majority of asbestos-related deaths are male, considering its use was typically in male-dominated heavy industry sectors throughout the 20th century. However, what has been less documented is the differences in how men and women are diagnosed and how they manage the illness.

National head of asbestos strategy at Thompsons Solicitors, Tony Hood, comments on a new study from the University of Sheffield and HASAG Asbestos Disease Support, titled the ‘Gendered Experience of Mesothelioma Study’ (GEMS). He hopes understanding of the study will enable more sufferers of asbestos disease to get the medical and legal help they need and deserve.

Asbestos specialist Tony Hood
National head of asbestos strategy, Tony Hood

“Historically, mesothelioma has been associated with men and that comes from its prevalence in heavy industry including construction and shipyards, affecting carpenters, plumbers, builders, electricians and engineers.

“Asbestos has historically been far less considered an issue for women, who have traditionally held administrative or clinical roles. The new report finds that the reason women are diagnosed less is due to the weighting towards diagnosing mesothelioma in men, who typically worked in high-risk professions.

“The new study has found is that women were more likely than men to be indirectly exposed to asbestos from having worked in buildings that were contaminated. At Thompsons, we have also seen cases where a husband unwittingly brought asbestos particles home at the end of the working day and his wife developed mesothelioma because she washed his clothes.

“Worryingly, the GEMS report is questioning whether the bias towards linking mesothelioma to high risk and traditionally male professions is stopping clinicians from even considering mesothelioma as a diagnosis for women. If that is the case, it is a cause for concern and an area for action in terms of educating medical professionals going forward.

“Disturbingly, as well, the report also finds that women are less likely to seek legal advice and therefore recover compensation from those who exposed them after diagnosis. It is clear there needs to be further support to women during and post diagnosis so they understand their options and are encouraged and empowered to seek the support they deserve.

“What this report exposes is that, while statistically men are more likely to have been exposed to asbestos than women, asbestos should not be considered solely a ‘male problem’, in the same way that it should not be seen as a problem of the past – especially when thousands continue to die from mesothelioma each year.

“Asbestos has devastated communities across the UK, impacting the lives of men and women alike, which is why we continue to campaign and raise awareness more than 20 years after it was banned.”

Read how we have campaigned for justice and supported asbestos victims on our Asbestos: Past, but Present campaign page