Mesothelioma Diagnosis in Women
Mesothelioma can be notoriously difficult to diagnose in any patient.
It takes between 20-50 years for symptoms to appear after asbestos exposure. In addition, the early symptoms of mesothelioma — such as coughing and chest pain — are common in many other ailments.
To make a mesothelioma diagnosis, doctors use the same methods for male and female patients. However, women with mesothelioma do experience some differences, both in terms of survival rate and misdiagnosis.
Mesothelioma Survival Rates in Men vs. Women
Many studies show that women experience better long-term survival of mesothelioma than men — often regardless of treatment type.
In a 2010 study by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, researchers found several predictors of a shorter survival rate among malignant pleural mesothelioma patients.
Indicators of a shorter survival rate included:
- Age: Older patients had a shorter survival rate.
- Cancer stage: Patients with more advanced cancer did not live as long.
- Sex: Male patients had lower survival rates.
However, in the case of mesothelioma patients with non-epithelial cancer cells, the survival rate advantage in female patients disappeared.
Women’s longer survival rates may be due to:
- A younger average age at diagnosis: Younger patients are less likely to have other health issues and are better able to handle aggressive mesothelioma treatments.
- Higher rates of peritoneal mesothelioma: Peritoneal mesothelioma is the least aggressive type, with longer average survival rates.
- Lower exposure to asbestos: Female patients tend to have fewer asbestos fibers in their bodies than men. This lower fiber count may be linked to the less aggressive epithelial cancer cell type.
- Higher estrogen levels: Findings from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons study suggest that estrogen receptors may play a role in slowing the spread of epithelial cancer tumors.
Researchers are hoping that the potential link between estrogen and survival rates leads to more effective treatments in the future.
Mesothelioma Misdiagnosis in Women
Mesothelioma can easily be misdiagnosed by doctors because its symptoms are nonspecific, and few medical professionals have experience with it.
Unfortunately, women may be especially prone to a mesothelioma misdiagnosis. This is because the disease is usually seen in men. Faced with vague symptoms, many doctors may not even think to consider mesothelioma as a possible diagnosis for a female patient.
In addition, women are overrepresented among peritoneal mesothelioma patients. Peritoneal mesothelioma causes symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, and bloating — easily dismissed as menstrual problems.