As mesothelioma is rare, studying the subject has always been difficult. Early researchers did, however, document tumors in the mesothelial lining of internal organs. It was not until the late 1800’s and early 1900’s that enough data on the subject was available to classify mesothelioma as its own disease, measure disease progression, and hypothesize about disease causation.
Here are a few highlights from the early years of mesothelioma history which have been condensed from the monograph, A History of Mesothelioma, by pulmonary specialist Dr. Dorsett D. Smith.

  • 1767 – Frenchman Joseph Lieutaud is credited with the earliest mention of a possible tumor in the chest wall. In his published study of 3,000 autopsies, Lieutaud mentioned two cases of “pleural tumors”.
  • 1843 – Austrian pathologist Karl, Baron von Rokitansky was the first to offer a pathologic description of the peritoneal mesothelioma
  • 1890 – Biggs identified the first American mesothelioma case
  • 1920 – Ernest S. Du Bray first coined the term “mesothelioma”
  • 1933 – Researcher S. Roodhouse Gloyne came very close to associating the cause of mesothelioma with asbestos; he ended up rejecting the idea.
  • 1933 – German researcher H. W. Wedler first reported an unusual form of pleural malignancy in 30 autopsies on asbestos workers. He excluded one case, and of the 29 remaining autopsies, four had bronchial cancers, and two others had a malignant pleural growth. Wedler’s research was accepted in Germany. Unfortunately, other researchers around the globe were suspicious, due to the political climate created with the rise of Hitler.


During the 1960s, research reports came in quick succession that began pointing to asbestos as the cause of this cancer. Here is a brief timeline:

  • 1960 – South African researcher J.C. Wagner associated mesothelioma with northwest Cape crocidolite, a form of asbestos
  • 1960 – In reviewing the records of an English hospital, E.E. Keel discovered four women diagnosed with carcinomatosis of the peritoneum without a known primary; one woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and four other women diagnosed with peritoneal malignancy, possibly of ovarian origin. Keel suspected an association with asbestosis and peritoneal cancer, but the connection was not strongly suggested until four years later.
  • 1963 – R.R. Tomson reported asbestos bodies in the lungs of South Africans who were not asbestos workers and called it a modern urban hazard.
  • 1964 – John Enticknap discerned an association of asbestos with peritoneal mesothelioma
  • 1965 – American researcher Irving J. Selikoff presents a paper at the New York Academy of Science Symposium; his thesis was the association between asbestos and mesothelioma.
  • 1968 – H.M. Utidjian et al, reported that almost 100 percent of urban dwellers had asbestos bodies in their lungs

Concurrent with the advancing research on mesothelioma, British society began changing as well. By 1966 the importation of crocidolite asbestos had been voluntarily abandoned in England, and new asbestos regulations accepting the relationship between asbestos and mesothelioma were adopted in 1969.


The 1970s was the decade when the association between asbestos exposure and malignant mesothelioma was generally accepted. Here are a few highlights from that decade:

  • 1970– Thompson’s original observations were widely confirmed in: Montreal, Milan, London, Newcastle, Glasgow, Belfast, Dresden, Pittsburgh, Miami, New York
  • 1973– Now both the criteria for diagnosis and the clear association between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma are generally accepted

In the decades that followed, researchers delved more deeply into the relationship between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma cancer, such as determining the size and shape of asbestos fibers caused malignant mesothelioma. The NIH estimates that 90 percent of mesothelioma cancers are caused by exposure to asbestos, 20 to 40 years previous to the diagnosis.

This cancer shows up in people who were directly exposed to asbestos in the workplace or secondarily as a family member. If you or a loved one have been unfairly exposed, reach out to our attorneys today.