BACKGROUND: Malignant mesothelioma reportedly shows different epidemiology and pathology in females, and a proportion are believed to arise spontaneously. METHODS: One hundred and seventy seven cases of malignant mesothelioma in females were reviewed, examined by histochemistry and immunohistochemistry, assessed for asbestosis and lung fibre burden by transmission electron microscopy with energy dispersive x ray analysis, and compared with 31 female controls. RESULTS: Two of one hundred and three cases tested for carcinoembryonic antigen were positive and were excluded from further analysis. Tumour cases showed increased amphibole burdens; in those in whom exposure information was known, 74 (80%) of 93 patients had a history of exposure to asbestos. Seventy two (47%) of 152 patients had lung fibrosis. Tumour site and histological type were little different from those reported in adult males. Mixed type histological pattern, lung fibrosis, and peritoneal site were associated with heavier lung asbestos burdens, but not exclusively. Thirty five (30%) of 117 patients had amphibole burdens of less than 2 x 10(6) fibres/g; the sites affected and the histological pattern of tumours in this group were similar to those in cases with amphibole fibre counts of > or = 2 x 10(6)/g lung. A higher lung amphibole burden than the mean burden in control females was found in 115 (98%) of 117 patients tested. CONCLUSIONS: The pathology of malignant mesothelioma appears to be similar in women and in men, and in cases associated and unassociated with asbestos.
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