Rising Cases of Women with Mesothelioma

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women with mesothelioma
LLB (Hons) & LPC Stacy Pimlott
Legally reviewed by: LLB (Hons) & LPC Stacy Pimlott In: Industrial Disease

Rising Cases of Women with Mesothelioma

The latest figures from Cancer Research UK show a rise in cases of women with mesothelioma. Although men account for most cases of mesothelioma, cases of women with mesothelioma have risen by 93% between 1993 and 2018. This is in comparison to a rise of 47% in cases of mesothelioma in men.

Roughly, 2,700 people in the UK receive a mesothelioma diagnosis every year. The main cause of women with mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. Builders were using asbestos as a flame retardant in the UK until as late as 1999. Breathing in the microfibers can cause deadly damage to the lungs and their lining. It can take years or decades for any symptoms to show. Dean Fennell, a professor of thoracic medical oncology at the University of Leicester states, “the proportion of women being diagnosed with mesothelioma has never been higher. Given the disease can take decades to develop, this rise seems to coincide with when more women joined the workforce from the 1950s onwards.”

The Case of Susan Ellis

The DailyMail has recently reported on the case of Susan Ellis. Susan was one of the many legions of women who recently entered the workforce in 1968. She was a 23-year-old recently qualified secretary, assisting in a leading firm of architects in Birmingham, starting out her career as a personal assistant.

Recently after starting her job, Susan visited a shopping centre with her boss that he had designed in Liverpool. This was just one of many trips that she made to the shopping centre while working for the firm over the course of a year.

Although this seemed like a small unnoteworthy part of her job, these trips were the cause of her mesothelioma diagnosis, 50 years later in 2018.

Investigations have shown that during one of her visits to the construction site, asbestos was being sprayed on the ceilings.

Susan now aged 78 states that “The diagnosis was quite a shock. My parents both lived into their 90s and, as I had no illness or health conditions, my expectation was that I had a good few years’ ahead of me to enjoy life with my two sons and five grandchildren.”

Susan’s experience is sadly becoming ever more common, lining up with when more women entered the workforce.

Delayed Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Symptoms of women with mesothelioma can be very common for several various illnesses. Some of the symptoms consist of coughing, breathlessness, and chest pain. As a result, mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed, or a diagnosis is delayed until the cancer has advanced, and treatment is more difficult.

Liz Darlinson, chief executive at Mesothelioma UK states “Mesothelioma is a devastating and hard-to-treat disease with people often diagnosed at a late stage and typically facing a poor prognosis.”

Mesothelioma mainly affects the lining of the lung rather than the lung itself, making it different from lung cancer (and asbestosis, which is non-cancerous scarring of the lung tissue caused by asbestos).

First Signs of Mesothelioma

Susan first noticed a problem in January 2018 when she found herself out of breath walking up the stairs at home.

“It was unusual. I’ve kept myself in good shape — I was a yoga teacher for many years — and had never had lung problems. I didn’t think much of it as there were no other symptoms but, when it didn’t go away, I saw my GP,” Susan says.

“He examined me and could find nothing wrong but said to come back if it persisted.”

After two weeks Susan went back to her GP and was sent for an X-ray. She recalls “As I was putting my coat on the radiographer rushed in and said, “You must go straight to A&E!” A doctor showed me the X-ray, indicating a collapsed lung and fluid in the chest cavity. I was hospitalised for a week so the fluid could be drained.”

Susan underwent surgery to re-inflate the lung but as the NHS couldn’t operate for six weeks, she used her health insurance and went private.

“During the operation, the surgeon took biopsies which revealed the mesothelioma diagnosis,’ says Susan. “He told me the average life expectancy for someone in my condition was 15 months. I was just so disappointed.”

Asbestos in 1.5M UK Buildings

Research published by ResPublica shows there are six million tonnes of asbestos in 1.5 million UK buildings, including workplaces, public buildings including schools.

The Health and Safety Executive says asbestos is potentially in any industrial or residential building built or refurbished before 2000.

Advances in Mesothelioma Treatments

More treatment options are now available for mesothelioma patients thanks to recent breakthroughs.

Professor Fennell says, ‘For years we only had chemotherapy, but there’s been a lot happening in this area in the last couple of years which has led to advances in treatment.”

“Following successful trials, last year the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence approved the first new treatment in over ten years for patients with unresectable malignant pleural mesothelioma — which accounts for 90 per cent of cases.” (This is the form of mesothelioma that Susan has.)

“The treatment is ‘a type of immunotherapy, where we attempt to train the body to fight the disease itself and is a combination of two drugs: nivolumab and ipilimumab.”

“It can be used now as a first-line treatment for these patients and trials show this gives patients a survival advantage of four months compared with chemotherapy alone.”

Cancer Research UK’s Funded CONFIRM Trial

Cancer Research UK’s funded CONFIRM trial, led by Professor Fennell provides further data.

For patients whose cancers have grown after chemotherapy, nivolumab also improves survival by over a month. The NHS is now making nivolumab available to these patients.

“This is a huge breakthrough as many patients only have months to live by the time they are diagnosed,” says Professor Fennell.

New research is focusing on uncovering the reason why some mesothelioma patients respond better to treatment than others. The research looks at their genes and microbiome, the community of microbes including bacteria that live in the gut.

“If we can identify mesothelioma’s Achilles’ heel we could target treatments much more effectively,” says Professor Fennell.

“Overwhelming Feeling of Disappointment”

Since Susan’s diagnosis, she has undergone two rounds of chemotherapy followed by nivolumab and ipilimumab. Most recently, in autumn 2022 she underwent radiotherapy to reduce pain. Susan has done remarkably well. This month will be five years since she was diagnosed. This far exceeds the average life expectancy.

“The frustrating thing is I am otherwise totally fit and have no other conditions,’ she says. ‘Once they had reinflated my lung, I didn’t really have any symptoms other than the side-effects of chemotherapy. Sadly, immunotherapy didn’t work for me.”

However, recent scans have shown that the cancer has spread to her ribs and diaphragm. As a result, Susan’s breathing is more difficult.

“I am still functioning — I can walk for short distances but have got myself a buggy to go to the shops,” Susan says.

She adds, “I find standing quite difficult and even the slightest movement has an effect on my breath.”

“I think I am in the last year now and I’ve taken the positive decision not to have more treatment, even though I was offered more chemotherapy and to go on a clinical trial. The benefits, if any, are small and I want to focus on quality of life,” she says.

“I have a wonderful GP who is dedicated, and the local hospice nurse looks after me both physically and psychologically.”

“All along I have had this overwhelming feeling of disappointment but now, as the end isn’t far off, I am angry.”

Making a Mesothelioma Claim

Susan instructed a mesothelioma solicitor who was able to undertake investigations. The investigations included getting hold of original construction notes for the shopping centre. These showed with some certainty that it was the visits to Liverpool more than 50 years ago which had caused Susan’s disease.

Susan received a pay-out in 2021 from the Government’s mesothelioma compensation scheme.

Discover how much compensation you can receive for a mesothelioma claim. 

“I want people to be aware that mesothelioma is not just an industrial disease, linked to the building sector — it affects normal people like me who never realised they were putting themselves at risk,” says Susan.

“And it is still present in a huge number of hospitals, schools, and other public buildings.”

“One woman I know developed it after going into a cellar at school to pick up some files, another from washing overalls belonging to her husband, a builder. He didn’t get mesothelioma, but she did.”

“Research into mesothelioma lags behind many other cancers. We need to put more money into it to find a cure for this disease, not just pay out compensation to those who develop it.”

Expert Industrial Disease Solicitors

Starting Your Mesothelioma Compensation Claim

Our team of industrial disease solicitors are highly experienced in pursuing mesothelioma claims against employers who have failed to protect their employees from inhaling asbestos.

The sensitive and reliable legal services we provide to mesothelioma sufferers include:

  • A home visit where we run through the process and answer any questions
  • A thorough investigation of your employment history and diagnosis
  • The creation of a strong and successful claim for compensation
  • Management of negotiations with the responsible party
  • The provision of specialist advice on government funding and charitable support

Even if you were exposed to asbestos many years ago, you can still pursue a claim for mesothelioma compensation. As long as you start the claims process within three years of your diagnosis, we’ll be able to get you a settlement.

Additionally, our solicitors can help you make a claim for mesothelioma compensation regarding a family member or loved one.

Here at AWH Solicitors we always provide our clients an approachable, friendly, and professional legal service. Our solicitors will always deal with you with care and sensitivity, offering as much support as they possibly can.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can I claim for mesothelioma on behalf of a loved one who has died?

If you have had a loved one who has sadly died of mesothelioma, you can claim for wrongful death. Our industrial disease solicitors will be able to help you claim for the following:

    - Mental anguish
    - Expected loss of income
    - Expected loss of protection, care and assistance
    - Any medical treatment and care for the person who
    has passed away

What can I claim for if I've contracted mesothelioma?

If you've contracted mesothelioma, you can claim for:

    - Mental anguish
    - Medical bills
    - Loss of income

How much compensation can I get if I've contracted mesothelioma?

How much compensation you will get will depend on a number of factors such as your medical bills and predicted loss of income. Each case is unique, but our asbestos solicitors will be able to give you an estimate based on the information that you provide us with.

If I have a mesothelioma or asbestos cancer claim, can I claim on a no-win-no-fee basis?

If you have a mesothelioma or asbestos cancer claim, it will be processed on a strictly no-win-no-fee basis, meaning that you will only have to pay solicitor’s fees if your claim is successful.

What is the time limit to make a mesothelioma claim?

Our mesothelioma solicitors can help anyone who has received a diagnosis in the past 3 years, or if a close relative of yours has passed away from mesothelioma in the past 3 years.