Surgical oncologist Dr. Paul Sugarbaker is the director of the Peritoneal Surface Malignancy Program at the Washington Cancer Institute and a world leader in the treatment of mesothelioma.

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About Dr. Paul Sugarbaker

Dr. Paul Sugarbaker is the No. 1 reason that patients diagnosed today with malignant peritoneal mesothelioma have reason for hope.

Sugarbaker has been a mesothelioma treatment pioneer throughout his long career, and embraced the challenge of tackling this difficult disease.

“I don’t know of anyone in surgery today who has done more in one lifetime to push the field forward like Paul has for a disease like this,” said surgical oncologist Dr. Lana Bijelic, of Inova Fairfax Hospital in nearby Falls Church, Virginia. “While everyone else was running away from the problem, he was developing the solution.”

The Sugarbaker Procedure

Today, surgeons across the country are using the Sugarbaker Procedure, a technique he developed for a range of abdominal cancers and later adapted to peritoneal mesothelioma.The process involves removing the lining of the abdomen and all visible tumor cells on organs throughout the cavity.

The surgery was initially deemed too radical because there were no official clinical trials to prove its worth, but it became Sugarbaker’s signature procedure.

Sugarbaker also embraced stronger regional chemotherapy in combination with surgery when others questioned it. The technique is now known as hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy.

Together, his surgery and HIPEC procedure turned the disease from incurable to manageable. His efforts to teach the combination to other surgeons is why most mesothelioma cancer centers use it today.

“It’s astounding how well we’re doing nowadays with this disease, compared to when we started,” Sugarbaker said. “It’s a totally different disease today. Median survival used to be a year at best. Now we expect 70% of our patients will be alive and well here after 10 years. It’s unbelievable how far we’ve come.”

Lifetime of Cancer Research

Sugarbaker is the medical director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Malignancies and director of the Peritoneal Surface Malignancy Program at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., where he has served since 1989.

Before joining MedStar, Sugarbaker spent 10 years at the National Institutes of Health and a short period at Emory University Hospital.

He graduated from Cornell University Medical School and completed residencies at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Massachusetts General Hospital.

In addition to his clinical practice, his extensive research revolves around ways to reduce the peritoneal surface dissemination of cancer.

Sugarbaker Legacy

Sugarbaker comes from a family of doctors. His brother, Dr. David Sugarbaker, who died in 2018, was legendary for his work in advancing the treatment of pleural mesothelioma. Their father, Dr. Everett Sugarbaker, also was a surgeon.

Sugarbaker has traveled extensively to speak at medical conferences, passing on his medical expertise to the next generation of doctors and surgeons. He has lectured on all five continents.

He is the biggest reason why patients with peritoneal mesothelioma typically live longer than those with the pleural type of the disease.

“We can do a better job with mesothelioma for everyone by moving it forward,” Sugarbaker said. “That’s part of what we do — trying to help everyone everywhere.”