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David Sugarbaker, M.D.

Dr. Sugarbaker is one of the leading experts in mesothelioma, a cancer that is rare and without many physicians specializing in its diagnosis and treatment. He built a renowned and comprehensive mesothelioma center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, but most recently left his position there to head up the Lung Institute at Baylor University’s College of Medicine in Houston. Dr. Sugarbaker made the move in order to do more for mesothelioma patients by sharing his expertise and what he learned in Boston with another medical community.

Early Education and Career

Dr. Sugarbaker grew up in Jefferson City, the capital of Missouri, in a big family with a father who worked as a surgeon specializing in cancer treatment. His older brothers went on to become surgeons too, and so it was fitting that he also decided to pursue a career in medicine, and specifically in surgery. Dr. Sugarbaker earned his undergraduate degree from Wheaton College in Illinois and completed medical school at Cornell University. He completed his residency programs and internships at several different prestigious universities, including Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Toronto General Hospital, and the University of Toronto’s Toronto Hospital for Sick Children.

Thoracic Surgery and Mesothelioma at Brigham and Women’s Hospital

With an interest in thoracic surgery that began during esophageal physiology research at the Harvard-Thorndyke Laboratory, Dr. Sugarbaker would go on to become one of the leaders in the field, earning his reputation and doing some of his most important work at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. While he developed an interest in thoracic surgery and specifically esophageal surgery early in his career, it was when he arrived in Boston that he discovered an interest in mesothelioma.

Dr. Sugarbaker saw patients who had worked in the Boston shipyards and suffered from mesothelioma as a result of workplace asbestos exposure. He was drawn to the fact that there was a great need for better diagnosis and treatment of this rare cancer and took it as a challenge to focus to mesothelioma. He spent 25 years of his career at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, founding the International Mesothelioma Program and making contributions to help improve the lives and the outcomes of patients.

Dr. Sugarbaker held several positions during his career in Boston, including chief of thoracic surgery and executive vice-chair of the department of surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, chief of surgical services at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School.

The Baylor College of Medicine Lung Institute

After many years of a successful career, Dr. Sugarbaker decided to leave Boston to become the director of the Lung Institute at Baylor College of Medicine and the Texas Medical Center in Houston. He has described the move as being motivated by being able to build another program for innovative patient care and mesothelioma treatment. He wanted to take what he learned in Boston and apply it to another location in order to help more patients.

As a new director of the Lung Institute, Dr. Sugarbaker has stated that he hopes to build a program that is multidisciplinary in its approach and that combines mesothelioma research with a forward-thinking clinical practice. He is also expected to bring his innovative approaches to treatment and surgery to the Baylor College of Medicine.

Clinical Research

Not just a surgeon treating patients with mesothelioma, Dr. Sugarbaker has spent much of his career engaging in hands-on clinical research to help develop better ways of treating this cancer. The majority of his research has focused on creating a tri-modal approach to treatment, using surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy to give patients the most comprehensive and aggressive treatment possible for attempting to slow or eradicate the growth of pleural mesothelioma tumors.

Dr. Sugarbaker is particularly well-known and regarded for his contributions to developing and refining the procedure called extrapleural pneumonectomy. This is an aggressive and radical type of surgery for pleural mesothelioma patients. It involves removing an entire lung along with much of the pleural tissue, tissue from around the heart, lymph nodes, and parts of the diaphragm. It is one of the few hopes that any mesothelioma patient has of achieving remission and few surgeons have the skills to perform this procedure.

Thanks to his work in advancing this and other procedures, as well improving and increasing the use of tri-modal treatment, Dr. Sugarbaker has been responsible for improving survival rates in mesothelioma patients. He has also worked on other research for treating mesothelioma, including tailoring chemotherapy drugs to individual patients and discovering genetic factors involved in the development and treatment of mesothelioma.

Additional Work and Honors

In addition to his work in research and with patients, Dr. Sugarbaker is a world-renowned lecturer, and former professor of surgery. He has added to the knowledge of mesothelioma treatment and has also brought a multi-disciplinary approach to caring for patient, making the process more individualized and more comfortable. His founding of the International Mesothelioma Program has brought together social workers, counselors, palliative caregivers, and other professionals to expand the way in which mesothelioma patients are treated. He is the vice president of the Graham Education and Research Foundation, a member of the Cardiothoracic Surgery Network, and has been named a top U.S. doctor every year since 2002.

Dr. Sugarbaker’s long career working with mesothelioma and patients has changed the face of treatment for this terrible disease. If you are looking for an expert in mesothelioma to help battle your cancer, you can’t ask for much better than this innovator and leader in research, treatment, and patient care.

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