Mesothelioma Specialists

Quick Summary

Mesothelioma specialists are surgeons or oncologists who have significant experience diagnosing or treating mesothelioma. They are highly qualified individuals with years of formal education and hands-on experience with mesothelioma. These specialists can come from a variety of backgrounds but typically stem from careers in thoracic surgery, surgical oncology, cancer science research, or rare cancer oncology

Many of the top mesothelioma specialists dedicate their lives to helping patients and researching new treatment options. It’s not uncommon for mesothelioma specialists to balance clinical work in a hospital with significant scientific research. Because mesothelioma is a relatively new form of cancer, some of today’s top mesothelioma specialists invented the ground-breaking treatments that are now used across the nation.

Why You Need To Work With A Mesothelioma Specialist

Mesothelioma is an uncommon form of cancer with only 3,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Compare this to the 1.6 million cases of cancer discovered annually in the United States and it’s easy to see how some oncologists, or cancer doctors, can go their entire careers without treating a single case of mesothelioma.

Not only is mesothelioma rare, but it’s also aggressive and unique in the way it spreads and reacts to treatment. It doesn’t behave the way other cancers behave, and therapies have to be chosen skillfully and strategically. While many cancers can be eliminated with a global approach, mesothelioma requires an individualized treatment plan that will change depending on the person, mesothelioma cell type, cancer stage, and disease location within the body.

Therefore, it’s absolutely critical that patients with mesothelioma work with specialists who have experience with and expertise in their specific condition.

Featured Mesothelioma Specialists

Pleural

  • Dr. David Sugarbaker
  • Dr. Hedy Kindler
  • Dr. Farid Gharagozloo
  • Dr. Joseph Friedberg
  • Dr. Abraham Lebenthal

Peritoneal

  • Dr. Paul Sugarbaker
  • Dr. Marcelo DaSilva
  • Dr. James Pingpank
  • Dr. Joel Baumgartner

Pericardial

  • Dr. Robert Cameron
  • Dr. Lary Robinson

Types of Mesothelioma Specialists

Mesothelioma specialists are either surgeons or oncologists, and sometimes both. Surgeons who specialize in mesothelioma typically have a background in cardiothoracic surgery, but sometimes are general surgeons instead.

In addition, there are three types of oncologists that can become mesothelioma specialists: medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, and radiation oncologists. Each type of oncologists focuses on a specific type of treatment.

Many mesothelioma patients are prescribed a trimodal approach to their treatment, combining chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy. As a result, it’s possible for a patient to work with all three types of mesothelioma specialists throughout their care. However, patients are typically assigned a single specialist to act as their medical lead and point of contact.

Medical Oncologists

Medical oncologists are what most people think of when they envision cancer doctors. They are essentially physicians who specialize in cancer, working with patients to diagnose and treat their disease using intravenous or oral chemotherapy and other pharmaceutical drugs. Medical oncologists may also use targeted therapy, which attempts to interfere with cancer cell growth and development.

Dr. Hedy Kindler and Dr. Claire Verschraegen are two well-known medical oncologists who specialize in mesothelioma.

Surgical Oncologists

Surgical oncologists are surgeons who focus on cancer treatment, cutting out tumors with surgical instruments. Mesothelioma surgeons often perform extrapleural pneumectomies or pleurectomy/decortication for patients with pleural mesothelioma. Surgical oncologists may also apply heated chemotherapy for mesothelioma, as this treatment requires a surgical operation.

Surgical oncologists with a mesothelioma specialty are often thoracic or cardiothoracic surgeons, although this is not always the case; some mesothelioma specialists are general surgeons. Dr. Harvey Pass and Dr. Brian Loggie are both respected surgical oncologists with mesothelioma expertise.

Radiation Oncologists

The third type of oncologist is radiation oncologists who treat cancer with radiation therapy. Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is the most common radiation treatment for mesothelioma patients, although new radiation therapies are emerging, including photodynamic therapy.

Although he is certified as a surgical oncologist, Dr. Joseph Friedberg is one example of an oncologist who has done extensive research into photodynamic therapy for mesothelioma patients.

General, Thoracic and Cardiothoracic Surgeons

Many of the world’s top mesothelioma specialists first discovered the disease through their work as cardiothoracic, thoracic or general surgeons. Like surgical oncologists, these surgeons focus on the surgical removal of mesothelioma tumors and may also perform heated chemotherapy.

Dr. David Sugarbaker and Dr. Robert Cameron are both thoracic surgeons who specialize in mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma Specialist Referral Process

The referral process to see a mesothelioma specialist will vary slightly depending on the chosen specialist’s hospital, but the steps are similar between facilities. Some hospitals require a formal referral from a physician, while others allow patients to self-refer.

Referral Process Update

Patients who suspect they have mesothelioma and want to self-refer can do so by contacting their chosen hospital directly and sharing any existing medical records that indicate a possible mesothelioma diagnosis.


Top mesothelioma hospitals that typically don’t require a physician’s referral include the Mayo Clinic, Baylor Lung Institute, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Hospitals that do require referral will need a doctor to complete the recommendation. Patients can receive a referral from their family doctor or oncologist, who will simply need to fill out a referral form and submit the patient’s medical history, files, and scans.

World-class hospitals that do require a physician’s referral into their mesothelioma program include Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Fox Chase Cancer Center, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center.

Factors To Consider When Choosing A Specialist

There are several important things to consider when selecting a mesothelioma doctor.

Mesothelioma Type & Stage Specialty

There are three major forms of mesothelioma: pleural in the lungs, peritoneal in the abdominal lining, and pericardial in the heart. Each type of mesothelioma behaves differently, and there’s no single treatment option that applies to all three forms.

In addition, mesothelioma requires varied approaches depending on the specific stage the cancer is in. For example, stage 2 peritoneal mesothelioma may be treated with a trimodal approach, while stage 4 might be treated using only radiation and chemotherapy. Many mesothelioma specialists are highly experienced in one or two cancer stages, but not all four.

Once a patient has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it’s important to choose a mesothelioma specialist who has experience in the type and stage of mesothelioma the patient has.

Cancer Center Location

Any cancer treatment can be intensive and time-consuming, and therapies for mesothelioma are no different. Choosing a hospital that’s close to home or easily accessible can greatly improve a patient’s quality of life. It’s easier for family members and friends to support a patient who is nearby, and a close proximity also helps minimize travel time and alleviate some of the inconvenience of ongoing visits.

Even after treatment has been received and mesothelioma is in remission, most patients still need regular visits with their mesothelioma specialist, as the cancer has a high recurrence rate. Because of these routine check-ups, the best mesothelioma specialists develop relationships with their patients that span for several years and will get to know the individual on a personal level.

“One of the things that attracted me to this is the long-term relationships. I tell all my patients that really, I’m their doctor for life, and I see patients for many, many years,” said Dr. Harpole Jr, a thoracic surgeon who specializes in mesothelioma at Duke Cancer Center.

Choosing a mesothelioma specialist who is close to home will help patients receive the care they deserve without the additional burden of extensive travel. Fortunately, there are several phenomenal mesothelioma programs located throughout the nation.

Comprehensive Cancer Center Designation

The National Cancer Institute has recognized 69 cancer centers throughout the United States with the “Comprehensive Cancer Center” designation. This prestigious accolade is reserved for cancer centers with world-class science and research divisions, combining clinical day-to-day patient care with innovative cancer research.

This designation is particularly important for mesothelioma patients, as mesothelioma is a relatively new and aggressive cancer that is still in the process of being cured. Patients who attend an NCI-Comprehensive Cancer Center may be able to participate in clinical trials and access new treatment plans that aren’t yet available to the general public, and also contribute to scientific databases that could help find a permanent cure in the future.

Most mesothelioma specialists can be found at NCI-designated centers and patients should choose a doctor at one of these facilities, if possible.

Clinical Trials & Research Opportunities

Mesothelioma specialists are still in the process of fully understanding pleural, peritoneal, and pericardial mesotheliomas. The earliest effective treatments for mesothelioma were developed in the 1990’s and even 2000’s, and are still being improved to this day. Many hospitals run their own mesothelioma clinical trials, while others can administer trials on behalf of other research hospitals. When choosing a mesothelioma specialist, patients should find out whether they will have access to active clinical trials and, if so, which ones.

Supplemental Therapy Options

Not all cancer centers are created equal, and the complementary treatments a patient receives from their specialist can depend on the resources available. Many hospitals understand the value of supplement therapies including art or music therapy, spiritual guidance, animal-assisted therapy, and even yoga. When choosing a mesothelioma specialist, patients should consider the doctor’s facility and the options provided for these additional services.

Insurance Coverage

Mesothelioma treatment is expensive and the bills add up quickly. Insurance plans often cover part or all of the treatment costs, but exact coverages do tend to vary significantly. Patients who are ready to start working with specific mesothelioma specialists should reach out to the specialist’s hospital to ensure they accept their existing plan. It’s important to fully understand any insurance limitations before meeting with a mesothelioma specialist. Fortunately, cancer centers are extremely familiar with insurance and typically have staff dedicated to helping patients navigate their insurance coverage.

Personality Fit

Like all human beings, mesothelioma specialists have a variety of personalities and people skills. Mesothelioma specialists are highly skilled individuals and can be expected to act professionally at all times. However, the connection a patient makes with their doctor can have a direct impact on their experience. For that reason, patients should consider personality fit when interviewing and ultimately choosing a mesothelioma specialist.

Experience Level

Mesothelioma is a relatively new cancer, but there are specialists who now have extensive experience treating the disease. A mesothelioma specialist who has been working in the field for several years and has worked alongside other mesothelioma specialists are typically going to be the best option. In addition to finding out how experienced a specific specialist is, patients should also consider how long their cancer center has had a designated mesothelioma program.

Top 10 Questions To Ask Your Mesothelioma Specialist

  1. How long have you been an oncologist?
  2. What types of mesothelioma do you have experience with?
  3. How many patients with mesothelioma have you worked with?
  4. What access will I have to clinical trials if we work together?
  5. What treatment plan do you recommend for me?
  6. What are the risks, side effects, and typical recovery times of these treatments?
  7. How will treatment impact my everyday life?
  8. What results do you expect from a successful treatment?
  9. Which other doctors or specialists will I need to see?
  10. What can I do to help?

Contact one of our Patient Advocates today to learn more about working with a mesothelioma specialist.

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Author

Sources
  1. National Cancer Institute. “Cancer Statistics.” Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics. Accessed on December 9th, 2017.
  2. Cancer.net. “Types of Oncologists.” Retrieved from https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/cancer-basics/cancer-care-team/types-oncologists. Accessed on December 9th, 2017.

Last modified: February 5, 2018