Malignant Mesothelioma


Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the lining of the chest, the abdomen, or other tissues. It has become increasingly more frequent since 1900, however, paralleling the use of asbestos. Exposure to asbestos is the most common cause of this disease, with the vast majority of cases occurring following exposures that may have taken place decades earlier. Mesotheliomas can be seen ten years after first exposure, but they peak at three to four decades after exposure. The risk is lifelong, and the prognosis is extremely poor, with death often occurring within twelve months of diagnosis, no matter what the treatment. Newer, extensive surgical techniques may alter this historical experience.

All fiber types of asbestos cause this disease, although there is continuing controversy over the differential ability of the different fiber types to do so. The one other recognized cause of this disease in humans is another group of fibrous materials called zeolites. In animal studies, however, a wide variety of other fibers have been known to cause mesotheliomas.

Mesotheliomas appear as several cellular patterns and may be difficult to diagnose. Special panels of experts are available to assist with making these evaluations. The most common lesions with which these may be confused are lung cancers.


(SEE ALSO: Asbestos; Occupational Safety and Health)


Osinubi, O. Y.; Gochfeld, M.; and Kipen, H. M. (2000). "Health Effects of Asbestos and Nonasbestos Fibers." Environmental Health Perspectives 108(54):665–674.

Selikoff, I. J., and Lee, D. H. K. (1978). Asbestos and Disease. New York: Academic Press.