History & Causes

A brief history of mesothelioma

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer found in the protective lining (mesothelium) of the lungs, chest, heart, abdomen, and testicles. Symptoms can take 20-50 years to develop and become noticeable, making for a poor prognosis. This dangerous form of cancer affects 2,000-3,000 people each year.

Exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Most of this exposure is occupational; employees working in the military or industrial careers are typically the most at-risk. Family members can also suffer secondary exposure if asbestos was carried into the home on clothes or shoes. If you or a loved one have been wrongfully exposed, reach out to our attorneys today.

Early History and Discovery of Mesothelioma

  • 1767 – Frenchman Joseph Lieutaud makes the earliest mention of a possible tumor in the chest wall. In his published study of 3,000 autopsies, he mentions two cases of “pleural tumors”.
  • 1843 – Austrian pathologist Baron Karl von Rokitansky is the first to offer a pathologic description of the peritoneal mesothelioma.
  • 1890 – Biggs identifies the first American mesothelioma case.
  • 1920 – Doctors Ernest S. Du Bray and F. B. Rosson coin the term “mesothelioma” to describe pleural tumors.
  • 1933 – Researcher S. Roodhouse Gloyne comes close to linking asbestos and mesothelioma but rejects the idea.
  • 1933 – German researcher H. W. Wedler reports an unusual form of pleural malignancy in 30 autopsies on asbestos workers. He excludes one case, and of the 29 remaining autopsies, four have bronchial cancers, and two others have a malignant pleural growth. Wedler’s research is accepted in Germany, but other researchers around the globe are suspicious, due to the rise of Hitler and a changing political climate.

Connection to Asbestos

In the 1960s, researchers began connecting asbestos and mesothelioma cancer through a series of studies in quick succession.

  • 1960 – South African researcher J.C. Wagner associates mesothelioma with northwest Cape crocidolite, a form of asbestos.
  • 1960 – In reviewing the records of an English hospital, E.E. Keel discovers four women diagnosed with carcinomatosis of the peritoneum without a known primary cause; one woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and four other women are diagnosed with peritoneal malignancy, possibly of ovarian origin. Keel suspects an association with asbestosis and peritoneal cancer, but the connection is not strongly suggested until four years later.
  • 1963 – R.R. Tomson reports asbestos bodies in the lungs of South Africans who are not asbestos workers. He calls it a “modern urban hazard”.
  • 1964 – John Enticknap discerns 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 demonstrates the association between asbestos and mesothelioma.
  • 1966 – Concurrent with the advancing research on mesothelioma, British society begins changing as well. By 1966, England voluntarily rejects the importation of crocidolite asbestos.
  • 1968 – H.M. Utidjian et al., reports that almost 100% of urban dwellers have asbestos bodies in their lungs.
  • 1969 – The Asbestos Regulations 1969 place strict requirements on all factories, building operations, and works of engineering construction to prevent the inhalation of asbestos fibers. These requirements have a much wider reach than any previous legislation.

Recent History

By the 1970s, the link between mesothelioma and asbestos exposure was generally accepted.

  • 1970– Thompson’s original observations are 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 have been able to delve more deeply into the relationship between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma cancer. Developments in staging have allowed doctors to determine the size and shape of malignant mesothelioma caused by asbestos fibers, and advancements in research allow for more accurate prognosis. The NIH estimates that 90% of mesothelioma cancers are caused by exposure to asbestos 20 to 40 years before 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.