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Dr. David Sugarbaker

As a world leader in mesothelioma treatment, Dr. David Sugarbaker has innovated specialized treatments for this rare form of cancer and led the charge to improve survival rates. Sugarbaker, a name long associated with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, was recently named the director of the Lung Institute at Baylor College of Medicine and the Chief of Thoracic Sugery at the Michael E. DeBakely Department of Surgery.

When he stepped down from his position as the head of Brigham and Women’s Hospital thoracic surgery department in Boston, he leaves behind a legacy. In Boston, he dedicated his life’s work to learning more about asbestos-related cancers and attempting to cure patients. He plans to do the same at Baylor in Houston, creating a mesothelioma specialty center.

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What is Dr. Sugarbaker’s Specialty?

For nearly 40 years, Sugarbaker’s been working on treatments that give patients a fighting chance. He is considered the world’s leading expert in such cancer treatment. Sugarbaker is known to be an excellent teacher, researcher and speaker. He has taught dozens of other doctors to help further the cause. He has created a laboratory specifically for asbestos research and has been a keynote speaker at dozens of asbestos-cancer functions.

Sugarbaker modernized asbestos-cancer treatment by using what he calls the tri-modal approach. This three-tiered method includes the following:

  • Extrapleural Pneumonectomy - In this complicated surgical procedure, the cancerous lung and the tissue surrounding it is removed. This is used primarily in patients who are in the early stages of asbestos cancer. A less drastic surgical method is a pleurectomy, in which just the diseased tissue around the lung is removed.
  • Chemotherapy - After the surgery but while the chest cavity is still open and exposed, the area is bathed in heated chemotherapy. This heated solution is aimed at inundating and killing any remaining cancerous cells.
  • Radiation - Any lingering cancer cells are then destroyed with external beams of radiation.

Sugarbaker has traveled worldwide to teach this novel method so skilled physicians can perform similar work. His goal is to give more patients a fighting chance.

In addition to his surgical work, Sugarbaker founded the International Mesothelioma Program (IMP) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The program is aimed at giving patients a multidisciplinary approach to cancer treatment and includes a varied team of the area’s best physicians, social workers and other specialists. The IMP houses a thoracic tissue bank that allows teams of researchers to study tumors for a better understanding of lung diseases that include asbestos-related cancers. This tissue bank has in excess of 30,000 specimens.

Sugarbaker created a new staging system in an effort to standardize asbestos-cancer staging. Called the Brigham Staging System, this looks at the advancement of tumors on the organs and tissues. It is intended to help doctors determine how far the disease has spread and which treatments should be used.

Sugarbaker is also the author of many scientific and research papers and worked together with other specialists worldwide to bring a better understanding to mesothelioma and its connection to asbestos.

At Baylor, Sugarbaker plans to create an asbestos-cancer treatment center that is unmatched. He will begin seeing patients in late summer 2014.

Sugarbaker Background

Sugarbaker graduated from the medical school at Cornell University in 1979. From there, he was accepted into several prestigious residencies and was asked to head up Brigham’s thoracic surgery department. He took a special interest in asbestos cancer as a young physician when he saw there were no good treatment options. From that, he created his surgical technique (extrapleural pneumonectomy).

At Brigham, he has been involved in developing several programs, including the division of thoracic surgery, the Brigham Lung Transplant Program, the Thoracic Oncology Program and the Lung Volume Reduction Program.


Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Featured Cancer Investigators Dr. David J. Sugarbaker, MD” Retrieved from http://www.brighamandwomens.org/research/centers/cancer/Researchers/Sugarba…

Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “David J. Sugarbaker, M.D.” Retrieved from http://www.chestsurg.org/about/staff/