Women and mesothelioma: Primary or secondary exposure?
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Women and mesothelioma: Primary or secondary exposure?

Mesothelioma attacks without regard to age, occupation, gender or country of origin. Unfortunately, the proliferation of asbestos in commercial, construction and consumer products almost guarantees that a significant number of people are exposed to the deadly fibers each year. From products as diverse as water pipes to roofing tiles to Christmas ornaments, asbestos was used to protect users from heat transfer and the threat of fire. However, it became apparent that as these products deteriorated, inhalation or ingestion of the fibrous material became a deadly reality.

Different types of exposure

Generally, asbestos exposure is broken down into either primary exposure or secondary exposure.

  • Primary exposure refers to the individuals who are directly coming into contact with the material.
  • Secondary exposure refers to those who were exposed by virtue of a loved one’s exposure. In many scenarios, this could be when asbestos fibers are trapped in the clothing and brought from the workplace home. It is at home where the fibers are transferred to other loved ones.

Secondary exposure has also often been referred to as domestic exposure.

In a study published in the American Journal of Surgical Pathology, 2,858 mesothelioma cases were examined. The cases ranged from 1983 to 2010. In the study, 354 (12.4 percent) of the cases occurred in women. Nearly all of the cases (92 percent) included an exposure history and 62 percent of the women reported a household contact. The contact was with an individual who commonly worked in industries classified as insulation, shipyard, construction and automotive.

While many industries have made improvements regarding protecting their employees from exposure to toxic materials, challenges continue to be identified. From air purifies to onsite industrial washing machines to single-use protective gear, employers still need to do a better job protecting their employees as well as those outside the worksite.