- Exposure to asbestos is the main established cause of mesothelioma; the incidence of this tumor is thus often interpreted as an index of past exposure. Asbestos has been widely used in Israel in industry and building, exposing certain population groups to the risk of developing mesothelioma. To analyze the incidence of mesothelioma in Israel during the years 1960-96, and to project its trend for the following years. We conducted a population-based study of the incidence of mesothelioma reported to the Israel Cancer Registry during 1960-96. Time trends were analyzed from data on the annual import of asbestos to Israel, which may indicate the magnitude of past exposure. Based on these findings, trends in the incidence of mesothelioma in Israel were projected for the subsequent years. A total of 327 cases of mesothelioma were reported to the Israel Cancer Registry during the study period. The incidence in Jews was higher than in Arabs (age-standardized incidence rate 2.64 vs. 1.35 per million/year, respectively). Among the Jewish population, Israeli-born males and males born in Europe and America showed the highest incidence (ASR 4.23 and 4.15 per million/year, respectively). Israeli-born males were 20 years younger than Jewish males born elsewhere. The incidence was twice as high among males than females and increased sevenfold from its nadir (1.17 per million/year) in 1978-80 to its peak (8.5 per million/year) in 1993-96. During a similar period the incidence among females increased from 0.33 to 2.56 per million/year. The incidence in both sexes does not appear to level off. The large wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union that began in 1989 only partly accounts for the increased incidence in 1993-96. The time trend in the incidence of mesothelioma in both sexes parallels the use of asbestos in Israel, which peaked in the years 1976-78. The incidence of mesothelioma in Israel has increased sharply in recent years, unrelated to a wave of immigration from East Europe, and is predicted to continue to rise for another 10-15 years.