As far back as 1870 one researcher is known to have described the condition of the lungs he saw during two autopsies with details that sounded very much like mesothelioma, the rare cancer that asbestos exposure can cause. But confirmation that it was a separate disease from all other lung cancers was not finally decided until the 1960s.
Different from regular lung cancers, mesothelioma was reported as very fast-growing once it was diagnosed. A group of South African researchers wrote the first definitive report about mesothelioma found among 31 to 68 year old residents of a mining community. Later, the researchers added more cases and found that most of these were not among the workers, but among life-long residents who lived close to the mining facility in the community.
Since that first detailed report, cases began to be reported on a regular basis in countries around the world. The recorded history of mesothelioma has been a little like the symptoms of mesothelioma—slow, insidious, hidden, until suddenly, when it's bad enough to be recognized, it spreads rapidly and becomes deadly.
History of lung cancer
In 1878 statistics indicated that malignant lung cancer was only 1% of all cancers as reported by a pathology institute in Germany. The history of lung cancer grew darker as the world became progressively more industrialized, and the percentage of lung cancer has since been steadily on the rise. Investigators took a long time to hook the rising incidence up with the increasing practice of smoking.
By 1969 researchers knew that smoking was a major contributor to the increasing rate of lung cancer. They also cited air pollution as a cause because the rates of lung cancer were higher in city areas than in rural ones.
When mesothelioma case histories began appearing more and more frequently in medical reports, a new culprit was added to the history of lung cancer: asbestos exposure.
History of asbestos
The history of asbestos is long and remarkable. It's incredibly flexible nature along with powerful insulating qualities and the ability to withstand extreme temperatures has made it a substance-of-choice for many applications for thousands of years.
Written documentation exists about asbestos being used during the Roman Empire, but there's also evidence in Scandinavia that it was used for making pots and filling in spaces in log homes as early as 3000 BC. Romans used it to make tablecloths they could throw in the fire to clean. They used it in building materials. It was even thought to have magical protective powers. And the history of asbestos contains written evidence that, even then, slaves and others who worked with the substance tended to have lung and breathing problems, and many died young.
By the end of 19th century and the industrial revolution, asbestos was being used to manufacture thousands of products including fabrics, insulation, construction materials, and brake linings. By the 1970s it became clear to the government and was announced to the world that asbestos exposure could result in asbestosis and mesothelioma. There was no hiding anymore.
Since then mesothelioma litigation has increased as it became known that many mining companies, manufacturers, and others knew very well the dangers of asbestos and failed to communicate them to workers or to offer them any kind of adequate protection.