Malignant mesothelioma is an aggressive, treatment-resistant tumour, which is increasing in frequency throughout the world. Although the main risk factor is asbestos exposure, a virus, simian virus 40 (SV40), could have a role. Mesothelioma has an unusual molecular pathology with loss of tumour suppressor genes being the predominant pattern of lesions, especially the P16INK4A, and P14ARF, and NF2 genes, rather than the more common p53 and Rb tumour suppressor genes. Cytopathology of mesothelioma effusions or fine-needle aspirations are often sufficient to establish a diagnosis, but histopathology is also often required. Patients typically present with breathlessness and chest pain with pleural effusions. Median survival is now 12 months from diagnosis. Palliative chemotherapy is beneficial for mesothelioma patients with high performance status. The role of aggressive surgery remains controversial and growth factor receptor blockade is still unproven. Gene therapy and immunotherapy are used on an experimental basis only. Patterns identified from microarray studies could be useful for diagnosis as well as prognostication.