CDC Reports Increase in Malignant Mesothelioma Mortality in Women

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In spring of this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a 20-year rise in the number of mesothelioma deaths in women. Analyzing annual Multiple Cause of Death records from the National Vital Statistics System for 1999 to 2020, researchers found that the annual number of mesothelioma deaths among women in the United States increased from 489 in 1999 to 614 in 2020, which is a 25.6% increase. However, the age-adjusted death rate per 1 million women declined from 4.83 in 1999 to 4.15 in 2020. [i] The authors of the study hypothesize that the increase in total number, but not the age-adjusted number “suggest that changes in underlying annual age distributions of the population over time are contributing to the observed increases in total mesothelioma deaths among women.”  A link to the CDC publication can be found here.

During this 1999 to 2020 span, 12,227 malignant mesothelioma deaths occurred among women above the age of 25. [ii] This included pleural, peritoneal, and pericardial mesotheliomas, as well as any reported mesotheliomas of unspecified location. Of the total deaths, 90.7% occurred among women over the age of 55, and 93.6% occurred among white women. Notably, 9.2% were classified as peritoneal mesothelioma, while 7.9% were classified as pleural mesothelioma, with .3% classified as pericardial, and 72.3% classified as mesothelioma of an unspecified location.

Industry and occupation information was available for 92.3% of the 614 malignant mesothelioma deaths reported in 2020, and among 21 industry groups, the highest percentage of deaths were those in healthcare and social assistance (15.7%), education services (11.3%), and then manufacturing (8.8%). While only 132 actual occupations were reported, those with the highest numbers of mesothelioma deaths were homemakers (22.8%), elementary and middle school teachers (5.6%), and registered nurses (4.9%).

The authors of the study noted several limitations, including the fact that no information on asbestos exposure was available on death certificates, and complete lists of industries and occupations over the course of a person’s life were also generally not available. Additionally, incomplete information as to the anatomic location of the mesothelioma on death certificates resulted in 72.3% being classified as mesothelioma of an unspecified origin, when general data from other sources indicates that approximately 74% of mesotheliomas in women are pleural.

Asbestos litigation continues to be dominated by male plaintiffs alleging that their alleged asbestos-related condition was caused by occupational exposure to asbestos. In fact, according to KCIC’s Industry Report Asbestos Litigation: 2020 Year in Review, from 2018 to 2020, “males made up 86% of all asbestos filings,” and when looking at mesothelioma claims specifically, males accounted for 81.6% of filings whereas females made up 18.4%. Generally, claims brought by female claimants fall into two categories: take home exposure claims wherein the female plaintiff is alleging exposure to asbestos brought home on the clothing of a male relative or partner who was occupationally exposed, or talc claims wherein the female plaintiff is alleging exposure to asbestos-contaminated talc in talcum powder products that she used throughout her lifetime. While we have not yet seen any notable increase in female asbestos plaintiffs over the past several years, if there is in fact an increased incidence of mesothelioma in females, we might expect to see an increase in the number of female plaintiffs bringing asbestos personal injury claims in the future, and perhaps a larger percentage of female plaintiffs bringing a third category of claims—those of direct occupational exposure—as alleged exposure periods become later given the latency period for mesothelioma and the general progression of time. 

[i] Age-adjusted to the 2000 U.S. standard population.

[ii] A malignant mesothelioma death was defined as any death certificate for which an International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision (ICD-10) code for malignant mesothelioma was listed in the CDC WONDER Multiple Cause of Death mortality data.