History and Causes

A brief history of mesothelioma

Mesothelioma Explained

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer found in the protective lining (mesothelium) of the lungs, chest, heart, abdomen or testicles. The disease is caused by prolonged asbestos exposure. Symptoms usually take between 20 to 50 years to develop and become noticeable. Due to this long latency period, a mesothelioma diagnosis often comes with a poor prognosis. Approximately 3,000 people are diagnosed each year.

Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Most of this exposure is occupational. Individuals with military or industrial careers are typically most at-risk. Secondhand asbestos exposure can also lead to a mesothelioma diagnosis. Family members who come in contact with clothing or surfaces containing trace amounts of asbestos are at risk for developing the cancer as well.


Early History

  • 1767 – Joseph Lieutaud, a French physician, makes the earliest documented mention of a possible tumor in the chest wall after studying 3,000 autopsies. He mentions two cases of “pleural tumors.”
  • 1843 – Baron Karl von Rokitansky, an Austrian pathologist, offers the first pathologic description of peritoneal mesothelioma.
  • 1890 – H.M. Biggs, an American researcher, identifies the first mesothelioma case in the U.S.
  • 1920 – Dr. Ernest S. Du Bray and Dr. F. B. Rosson coin the term “mesothelioma” to describe pleural tumors.
  • 1933 – S. Roodhouse Gloyne, an English pathologist, begins to hypothesize a link between asbestos and mesothelioma but rejects it.
  • 1933 – H. W. Wedler, a German researcher, reports an unusual form of pleural malignancy in 30 autopsies performed on asbestos workers. After excluding one case, the remaining 29 autopsies revealed four patients who had bronchial cancers and two who had malignant pleural growths. Wedler’s research is accepted in Germany. Other researchers around the globe are suspicious due to the rise of German dictator, Adolf Hitler, and a changing political climate.


Recent History

  • 1960 – J.C. Wagner, a South African researcher, associates mesothelioma with Northwest Cape crocidolite, one of six types of asbestos mined in South Africa.
  • 1960 – E.E. Keel discovers four women who were diagnosed with peritoneal carcinomatosis without a known primary cause. One woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer and the remaining three 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. Thomson reports asbestos fibers in the lungs of South Africans who are not asbestos workers. He calls it a “modern urban hazard.”
  • 1964 – John Enticknap associates asbestos with peritoneal mesothelioma.
  • 1965 – Irving J. Selikoff, an American researcher, presents a paper at the New York Academy of Science Symposium on the association between asbestos and mesothelioma.
  • 1966 – England voluntarily rejects the importation of crocidolite asbestos.
  • 1968 – A study written by H.M. Utidjian et al., reports that almost 100 percent of urban dwellers have asbestos fibers in their lungs.
  • 1969 – The Asbestos Regulations 1969 places strict requirements on all factories, building operations and construction to prevent the inhalation of asbestos fibers. These requirements have a much wider reach than any previous legislation.
  • 1970 – R.R. Thompson’s original observations are widely confirmed in Montreal, Milan, London, Newcastle, Glasgow, Belfast, Dresden, Pittsburgh, Miami and New York.
  • 1973 – The criteria for diagnosis are solidified and the connection between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma is generally accepted.
The number one cause of mesothelioma is from occupational asbestos exposure. Workers are most at risk from repeated asbestos exposure on the job site.
  • Linotype technicians 
  • Pipe fitters
  • Industry workers
  • Blacksmiths
  • HVAC
  • Cement plant workers
  • Boiler workers
  • Autoworkers
  • Oil refinery workers
  • Paper mill workers
  • Industry workers
  • Blacksmiths
  • HVAC
  • Cement plant workers
  • Linotype technicians 
  • Pipe fitters
  • Aircraft Mechanics