Mesothelioma Facts: The Tragic Truth

Malignant mesothelioma (meso) is the story of Americans who worked hard to build and defend this country. For 50 years, America's industrial and building trades workers, Navy personnel and many others were exposed to asbestos. The so-called "miracle mineral" was common in the workplace and on Navy ships and in shipyards. When workers brought the asbestos fibers home each night in their clothes and hair, their families were also exposed.

Each year we learn more about mesothelioma. According to mesothelioma facts and statistics, approximately three thousand or more Americans develop this malignant tumor that -- after a latency period of ten to fifty years -- aggressively invades the linings of the lungs, abdomen, heart or testicles.

Millions more Americans are being put at risk today, because of all of the asbestos that remains present in occupational settings; in buildings such as homes, offices and schools; and in a wide variety of products. The incidence of mesothelioma still has not peaked in the U.S., and is growing to epidemic proportions in other parts the world. The tragedy of 9/11 demonstrates the continued, long-term threat of mesothelioma. Estimates of the amount of asbestos released around Manhattan range as high as 1,000 tons.

The impact pulverized this asbestos into tiny, microscopic fibers to which the firefighters, rescue workers and other heroes of 9/11 were exposed. In the weeks and months following workers, residents and school children in the area continued to be exposed. After meso’s long latency period, the risk of cancer among those most heavily exposed could reach as high as one in ten. Thus, even if asbestos were banned today, and it absolutely should be, the meso epidemic would continue for decades and cry out urgently for development of better treatments.

Disease History 

Meso was identified in the medical literature by the late 1940’s. However, for decades the need for research about mesothelioma to develop effective treatments for meso patients was ignored, obscured by the legal, economic and political aspects of asbestos. For the most recent years for which there are figures, 2004 through 2007, the National Cancer Institute’s annual investment in clinical meso research was less than $6 million. This is only approximately one tenth of one percent of the NCI’s annual budget; while the NCI is investing as much as 9 times more, per death, on other cancers.


Annual NCI
Research Funding

Annual Mortality

Research Funding Factor
(per Mortality) Relative to

















Hodgkin disease








The Meso Foundation is active in Washington, D.C., calling on the federal government to partner with the Foundation in funding the research necessary to develop effective treatments.  This should include NCI funding of mesothelioma research at levels proportionate to other cancers.

Treatment Possibilities

Our optimism that with such a national investment, dramatically improved treatments for meso being developed is not just wishful thinking.  The brilliance and dedication of the researchers around the world who are working on meso, and the progress they are making, ushers us closer to a cure.  Meso Foundation researchers have been funded to look at novel therapeutics (targeting HDAC’s, AKT, receptor tyrosine kinases, IAPs, and immune modulatory molecules), develop new diagnostics or biomarkers (tumor specific cell-surface antigens, mesothelin, osteopontin), and better learn about mesothelioma and understand mechanisms of tumor formation. Competition for Meso Foundation funds is very intense and these researchers represent some of the top researchers in cancer biology and radiology.  The entire field of meso research is beginning to move forward very quickly.

Existing Resources

Thus, we are confident that with a national investment, we can dramatically improve treatments for meso and end suffering. So, what is holding back this investment? Ironically, it is not a question of resources. Huge resources are available to improve treatments for meso, just as has been done for so many other diseases in the past decade. It is a question of the will to commit the resources.

Given that vast resources are available and being consumed by the economic and legal sides of asbestos, only a minority of these resources even make it to the injured patients and families themselves, as compensation. But because of the current lack of effective treatments, meso is almost always rapidly fatal. “Compensation” is a cruel travesty. Future victims would be much better served if some of these resources were put to better use developing life-saving treatments for the disease.


To learn more about mesothelioma and actions you can take, visit our How You Can Help page.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued important information and warnings regarding Asbestos-Contaminated Vermiculite Insulation.  Follow these links to the EPA issued letter and the EPA Fact Sheet provided to help protect your family.

Click these links for Detailed Asbestos and Mesothelioma information, our Asbestos Fact Sheet and Mesothelioma 101 printable handouts and for your Local Asbestos and Meso data.