Tuesday, July 10, 2007


The first lawsuit against asbestos manufacturers was brought in 1929. The parties settled that lawsuit, and as part of the agreement, the attorneys agreed not to pursue further cases. It was not until 1960 that an article published by Wagner et al first officially established mesothelioma as a disease arising from exposure to crocidolite asbestos. The article referred to over 30 case studies of people who had suffered from mesothelioma in South Africa. Some exposures were transient and some were mine workers. In 1962 McNulty reported the first diagnosed case of malignant mesothelioma in an Australian asbestos worker. The worker had worked in the mill at the asbestos mine in Wittenoom from 1948 to 1950.

In the town of Wittenoom, asbestos-containing mine waste was used to cover schoolyards and playgrounds. In 1965 an article in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine established that people who lived in the neighbourhoods of asbestos factories and mines, but did not work in them, had contracted mesothelioma.

Despite proof that the dust associated with asbestos mining and milling causes asbestos related disease, mining began at Wittenoom in 1943 and continued until 1966. In 1974 the first public warnings of the dangers of blue asbestos were published in a cover story called "Is this Killer in Your Home?" in Australia's Bulletin magazine. In 1978 the Western Australian Government decided to phase out the town of Wittenoom, following the publication of a Health Dept. booklet, "The Health Hazard at Wittenoom", containing the results of air sampling and an appraisal of worldwide medical information.

By 1979 the first writs for negligence related to Wittenoom were issued against CSR and its subsidiary ABA, and the Asbestos Diseases Society was formed to represent the Wittenoom victims.

Legal issues

The first lawsuits against asbestos manufacturers were in 1929. Since then, many lawsuits have been filed against asbestos manufacturers and employers, for neglecting to implement safety measures after the links between asbestos, asbestosis, and mesothelioma became known (some reports seem to place this as early as 1898). The liability resulting from the sheer number of lawsuits and people affected has reached billions of dollars. The amounts and method of allocating compensation have been the source of many court cases, and government attempts at resolution of existing and future cases.

Notable people with mesothelioma

Mesothelioma, though rare, has had a number of notable patients. Australian anti-racism activist Bob Bellear died in 2005. British science fiction writer Michael G. Coney, responsible for nearly 100 works also died in 2005. American film and television actor Paul Gleason, perhaps best known for his portrayal of Principal Richard Vernon in the 1985 film The Breakfast Club, died in 2006. Mickie Most, an English record producer, died of mesothelioma in 2003. Paul Rudolph, an American architect known for his cubist building designs, died in 1997.

Steve McQueen was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma on December 22, 1979. He was not offered surgery or chemotherapy because doctors felt the cancer was too advanced. McQueen sought alternative treatments from clinics in Mexico. He died of a heart attack on November 7, 1980, in Juárez, Mexico, following cancer surgery. He may have been exposed to asbestos while serving with the US Marines as a young adult—asbestos was then commonly used to insulate ships' piping—or because of its use as an insulating material in car racing suits. (It is also reported that he worked in a shipyard during World War II, where he might have been exposed to asbestos.[citation needed]

United States Congressman Bruce Vento died of mesothelioma in 2000. The Bruce Vento Hopebuilder is awarded yearly by his wife at the MARF symposium to persons or organizations who have done the most to support mesothelioma research and advocacy.

After a long period of untreated illness and pain, rock and roll musician and songwriter Warren Zevon was diagnosed with inoperable mesothelioma in the fall of 2002. Refusing treatments he believed might incapacitate him, Zevon focused his energies on recording his final album The Wind including the song Keep me in your heart which speaks of his failing breath. Zevon died at his home in Los Angeles, California, on September 7, 2003.

Although life expectancy with this disease is typically limited, there are notable survivors. In July 1982, Stephen Jay Gould was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma. After his diagnosis, Gould wrote the "The Median Isn't the Message" for Discover magazine, in which he argued that statistics such as median survival are just useful abstractions, not destiny. Gould lived for another twenty years eventually succumbing to metastatic adenocarcinoma of the lung, not mesothelioma.

Author Paul Kraus was diagnosed with mesothelioma in June 1997 following an umbilical hernia operation. His prognosis was "a few months." He continues to survive using a variety of integrative and complimentary modalities and has written a book about his experience.

Prevention & Expectations

What can be done to prevent the disease? Since the 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have regulated the asbestos industry in the U.S. In the past, asbestos was used as a fire retardant and an insulator. Other products are now used in its place. The controversy involving exposure to different forms of asbestos continues.

There are two major types of asbestos: chrysotile and amphibole. It is thought that exposure to the amphibole form is more likely to cause mesothelioma. However, chrysotile has been used more frequently, hence many mesotheliomas are caused by chrysotile.

Removal is taking place in schools and other public buildings throughout the U.S. The hope is that these measures will greatly reduce the occurrence of this cancer.

What are the long-term effects of the disease? A mesothelioma is a highly aggressive tumor that is generally deadly. Current treatment of malignant mesothelioma is designed to make the person with cancer comfortable. Although long-term survival cannot usually be expected, the case of famed paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould is a noted exception.

What are the risks to others? Mesothelioma is not contagious and cannot be passed from one person to another. The exposure to the asbestos that caused the cancer occurred many years to several decades before the disease appeared. People who live with asbestos workers have a higher risk of getting this cancer.

Heated Intraoperative Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy

A procedure known as heated intraoperative intraperitoneal chemotherapy was developed by Paul Sugarbaker at the Washington Cancer Institute. The surgeon removes as much of the tumor as possible followed by the direct administration of a chemotherapy agent, heated to between 40 and 48°C, in the abdomen. The fluid is perfused for 60 to 120 minutes and then drained.

This technique permits the administration of high concentrations of selected drugs into the abdominal and pelvic surfaces. Heating the chemotherapy treatment increases the penetration of the drugs into tissues. Also, heating itself damages the malignant cells more than the normal cells.


Treatment regimens involving immunotherapy have yielded variable results. For example, intrapleural inoculation of Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) in an attempt to boost the immune response, was found to be of no benefit to the patient (while it may benefit patients with bladder cancer). Mesothelioma cells proved susceptible to in vitro lysis by LAK cells following activation by interleukin-2 (IL-2), but patients undergoing this particular therapy experienced major side effects. Indeed, this trial was suspended in view of the unacceptably high levels of IL-2 toxicity and the severity of side effects such as fever and cachexia. Nonetheless, other trials involving interferon alpha have proved more encouraging with 20% of patients experiencing a greater than 50% reduction in tumor mass combined with minimal side effects.


In February 2004, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved pemetrexed (brand name Alimta) for treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma. Pemetrexed is given in combination with cisplatin. Folic acid is also used to reduce the side-effects of pemetrexed.