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Dr. David Sugarbaker

There’s a reason why Dr. David Sugarbaker is known as the top mesothelioma doctor in the nation. He’s an innovator and takes fighting this disease very seriously.

To many of his colleagues, Sugarbaker is known as “Mr. Mesothelioma.” He is known as the gold standard in mesothelioma care. For more than 35 years, Sugarbaker has been fighting this debilitating disease with success. He has pioneered one of the most successful and widely used treatments for patients with stage I and II mesothelioma -- the extrapleural pneumonectomy. As the chief of thoracic surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, he has innovated treatments that have markedly improved the life expectancies of scores of mesothelioma patients.

Sugarbaker and Extrapleural Pneumonectomy

While Sugarbaker and his staff always customize treatment plans for all of his mesothelioma patients, his specialty is the extrapleural pneumonectomy. For this treatment, a lung, a portion of the diaphragm and the lining that surrounds the heart and lungs are removed. This surgery is so serious that it is only performed on patients who are deemed otherwise healthy.

How is the extrapleural pneumonectomy done?

This is a major surgery that takes up to eight hours to perform. The abbreviated version of the surgery is as follows:

  1. An incision is made in the middle or side of the chest. The diseased lung as well as any diseased portions of the diaphragm and the pericardium, the protective layer around the heart, is removed. Occasionally, the sixth rib may be removed to allow the doctor ease of access.
  2. Once the lung and other diseased tissue are removed, a chemotherapy solution that is heated to 110 degrees is applied directly to the area to kill any remaining cancer cells. This is done for two reasons. First, the solution is heated because cancer cells can’t withstand heat as much as healthy cells. Second, the solution is applied directly to the diseased area because it is more effective than delivering it through the bloodstream.
  3. The last step in the process is radiation therapy. Using isolated beams of energy, Sugarbaker is able to keep cancer cells from reforming and prevent the disease from reappearing.

Sugarbakers’ background

Raised in Missouri, Sugarbaker attended Cornell University Medical College, now called Weill Cornell Medical College, in New York City. After his residency, he went on for additional training to specialize in thoracic surgery. In 1988, he was invited to be the new chief of the thoracic surgery division at Brigham.

Working in thoracic surgery, he saw mesothelioma patients who had no treatment options and wanted to help. From this, he was inspired to create the extrapleural pneumonectomy. He also went on to create a sophisticated tumor bank with more than 30,000 specimens for research. The tumor bank grew from a small corner of the pathology department to a 12-person department where researchers work to solve the complex puzzle of mesothelioma and other forms of lung cancer. Sugarbaker has also published multiple papers in the field of mesothelioma research and collaborated with multiple experts from around the world to delve deeper into the connection between asbestos and mesothelioma.


Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Dr. David J. Sugarbaker, M.D.” Retrieved from

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “Physician Profile. David J. Sugarbaker, MD.” Retrieved from