Pleural mesothelioma specialists include radiation and medical oncologists and thoracic surgeons. Many cancer experts must work together to provide the best care for this complex disease. Top mesothelioma doctors include surgeon Dr. Abraham Lebenthal and radiation oncologist Dr. Charles B. Simone.

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Last Updated on August 15, 2019.

Importance of Working with Mesothelioma Specialists

Treating pleural mesothelioma is a team effort.

It takes the combined experience of many pleural mesothelioma specialists, including medical oncologists, thoracic surgeons, radiation oncologists, pulmonologists and pathologists to effectively treat this complex cancer.

Working together, these medical experts provide each unique patient their best mesothelioma treatment plan.

In the 2018 Advances in the Treatment of Mesothelioma CancerCare teleconference, experts agreed multimodal therapy — which combines more than one treatment — is the best approach for most patients.

Because each treatment type requires a specialist, the top cancer centers employ mesothelioma experts in every relevant subspecialty.

Top Cancer Centers with Pleural Mesothelioma Specialists

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Mesothelioma specialists play critical roles in improving prognosis

Specialists Key to Pleural Mesothelioma Treatment

Understanding the role of each pleural mesothelioma doctor in your treatment plan will help you communicate with your health care team effectively.

One of the specialists on your team will also function as the team leader. They work with the rest of your team to coordinate care and follow-up scans.

If you are eligible for tumor-removing surgery, your thoracic surgeon may play this role. If your treatment plan focuses on chemotherapy or immunotherapy, the team leader may be your medical oncologist.

Either way, communication between all of your mesothelioma experts is vital for managing side effects, preventing harmful drug interactions and monitoring how the cancer responds to treatment.

Thoracic Surgeons

Thoracic surgeons are trained to operate on the vital organs in the chest. They are sometimes called cardiothoracic surgeons.

Thoracic procedures are surgically challenging and have high risk for patients. Until the pioneering work of Dr. David Sugarbaker in the 1990s, treating pleural mesothelioma with surgery was considered nearly impossible.

Sugarbaker and other expert surgeons proved advanced surgical procedures can help certain patients live longer with pleural mesothelioma. Patients may be eligible for surgery if they are in good overall health and their cancer has not spread or metastasized.

Top Mesothelioma Thoracic Surgeons

  • Abraham Lebenthal, M.D., Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston
  • Wickii Vigneswaran, M.D., Loyola University Medical Center, Chicago
  • Robert Cameron, M.D., UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, Los Angeles

Medical Oncologists

Medical oncologists specialize in treating cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

Chemotherapy is the most common treatment for pleural mesothelioma, and immunotherapy holds great promise for treating the disease.

Medical oncologists are almost always involved in pleural mesothelioma care and help ensure mesothelioma treatment recommendations are based on the latest research. They can help cancer patients enroll in clinical trials of new, investigational drug therapies.

Top Mesothelioma Medical Oncologists

  • Muaiad Kittaneh, M.D., Loyola University Medical Center, Chicago
  • Anita Lyn Sabichi, M.D., Lung Institute at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston
  • Robert Ramirez, M.D., Ochsner Medical Center, New Orleans

Radiation Oncologists

Radiation oncologists use beams of X-rays or other types of energy in the form of charged particles to damage cancer cells. Radiation can shrink pleural mesothelioma tumors or kill cancer cells leftover after surgery.

It takes advanced radiotherapy equipment and expert training to hit a pleural mesothelioma tumor with radiation while protecting the heart and lungs.

Radiation oncologists who specialize in cancers of the chest use cutting-edge techniques such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy and proton therapy to treat pleural mesothelioma with less damage to organs in the chest.

Top Mesothelioma Radiation Oncologists

  • Kenneth Rosenzweig, M.D., Mount Sinai Hospital, New York
  • Bela Kis, M.D., H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, Florida
  • Ritsuko U. Komaki, M.D., University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston

Palliative Care Specialists

Palliative care specialists focus on alleviating symptoms and treatment side effects for patients. They understand patients can have good quality of life, even if their cancer cannot be cured.

Palliative care specialists can help pleural mesothelioma patients recover from surgery or manage nausea during chemotherapy. They also focus on aggressive pain management and improving breathing for people living with mesothelioma.

Working with a palliative care specialist from the beginning leads to better treatment outcomes for pleural mesothelioma patients.

Specialists Important to Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Because pleural mesothelioma is so rare, most doctors don’t think to look for it. Symptoms of mesothelioma typically don’t appear until the disease has progressed to later stages.

Even then, your primary care doctor or pulmonologist may misdiagnose the cancer as a less serious condition such as the flu or pneumonia.

If you have a history of asbestos exposure, let your primary care physician know immediately. This way, if you experience symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain, your doctor is less likely to rule out pleural mesothelioma as the cause.

General Practitioners

General practitioners provide routine medical care. They are the ones you call for regular checkups and typical aches and pains.

Pleural mesothelioma has vague early symptoms, and general practitioners often mistake them for the flu or pneumonia at first.

They are not equipped to diagnose or treat this rare cancer. However, they can refer you to specialists who can properly diagnose pleural mesothelioma.

Your family doctor or primary care physician still has an important role to play during your cancer treatment. They are familiar with the other health issues you have. They should coordinate with your cancer treatment team to ensure consistent care.

Pulmonologists

Pulmonologists focus on the health of the lungs. These doctors usually play an important role diagnosing pleural mesothelioma when a patient has unexplained breathing problems.

Doctors who are not pulmonologists typically are not familiar with asbestos-related diseases. They can misdiagnose mesothelioma for more common conditions such as bronchitis or the flu.

Pulmonologists are more familiar with rare lung diseases such as pleural mesothelioma, and this helps them get to the bottom of your symptoms more quickly.

Once you receive an accurate diagnosis, a pulmonologist can provide expert advice on managing the disease and its symptoms.

A pulmonologist can prescribe medications, recommend the right type of inhaler for your symptoms, and refer you for pulmonary rehabilitation and other therapies to minimize shortness of breath and pain.

Pathologists

Pathologists study cells under a microscope to identify them. Sending a tumor biopsy (tissue)  sample to a pathologist is the best way to confirm a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis.

Pathologists examine the shape of cells to determine the cell type of the cancer. They also use sophisticated lab tests, such as immunohistochemical stains, to differentiate between types of cancer. These tests can tell the difference between lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma cells.

Many patients do not need to consult with a pathologist directly, because the oncologist will be the person to share pathology test results with you. If you have any concerns about the accuracy of your diagnosis, you can always ask for a second opinion.

Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine

Certain mesothelioma specialists have a “D.O.” after their name instead of an “M.D.” This means they are technically a “doctor of osteopathic medicine” rather than a “medical doctor.”

D.O.s take the same qualifying board exams as M.D.s and are fully qualified to provide mesothelioma treatment.

Osteopathic doctors receive the same training as medical doctors, plus an additional 200 hours of training in osteopathic medicine. They emphasize preventative care and take a more holistic approach to maintaining a patient’s health.

Doctors of osteopathic medicine can specialize in pulmonology, surgery and oncology just like other doctors.