Dr. Joseph Friedberg

Dr. Joseph Friedberg

Surgical Oncologist

Dr. Friedberg specializes in the treatment of pleural mesothelioma, an asbestos-caused cancer affecting the lung lining. Over the course of his career, Dr. Friedberg has pioneered new and more effective treatments and therapies for pleural mesothelioma, like his lung-saving surgery and the photodynamic therapy (PDT)-generated autologous tumor vaccine.

  • Procedure Photodynamic Therapy
  • University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center 22 S Greene St, Baltimore, MD 21201

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About Dr. Friedberg

Dr. Joseph Friedberg is the Charles Reid Edwards Professor of Surgery and Head of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

He has published over 150 research articles, seminars, and presentations. He is also a member of the American Association of Thoracic Surgeons, as well as other societies such as the Society of Thoracic Surgeons and the American College of Surgeons.


Dr. Joseph Friedberg received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School, where he graduated with distinction in 1986. While he was attending Harvard, he was a Greenebaum Research Fellow and worked under Dr. Judah Folkman.

The Greenebaum Research Fellowship is a training program that strives to improve clinical oncology by finding ways to move research studies into medical practices. This is something that Dr. Friedberg continues to work towards today.

After graduating from Harvard, Dr. Friedberg did his surgical internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

Then he moved over to the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary for his residency in otolaryngology, which is the study of diseases of the ear and throat, before moving back to the Massachusetts General Hospital to do his residency in general surgery.

After his residency at the general hospital, Dr. Friedberg joined the Claude Welch Research Fellowship. After which he did another fellowship, this time in cardiothoracic surgery at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA.

Finally, Dr. Friedberg ended up at the University of Maryland, where he is the Chief of Thoracic Surgery.

In addition to the responsibilities associated with that position, Dr. Friedberg is also the co-director of the Penn Mesothelioma and Pleural Disease Program and an associate professor of thoracic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

Dr. Friedberg's Medical Specializations

As a thoracic surgeon, Dr. Friedberg specializes in surgically treating diseases affecting the chest, including pleural mesothelioma.

Primarily, Dr. Friedberg focuses on lung-sparing treatment options for pleural mesothelioma, including using an innovative combination of light therapy (photodynamic therapy) and vaccines.

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)-Generated Autologous Tumor Vaccine

Dr. Friedberg is currently working on a PDT-generated autologous tumor vaccine. PDT uses a photosensitizing drug and a specific type of light.

To treat the tumor, the doctor injects the photosensitizer into the patient’s bloodstream. From there it is absorbed by cells all over the patient’s body. However, the drug remains in cancerous cells longer than it does in healthy cells.

After giving the healthy cells a chance to get rid of the photosensitizer, which is between 24 and 72 hours after the patient was injected, the doctor exposes the tumor to the special light.

This light travels through the body — how far it can travel is determined by what wavelength the light is — and reacts with the photosensitizer.

When the photosensitizing drug is hit with the light, it creates an active form of oxygen. This oxygen then kills the cancer cells that surround it.

PDT doesn’t only just kill the cancer cells. While destroying the cancer cells is the primary way that PDT treats cancer, it also appears to attack the tumor in a couple of other ways.

These methods are:

  1. Activating Immune System: One way that PDT may treat cancer is by activating the immune system and causing the patient’s own body to fight off the cancer cells.
  2. Damage Tumor Blood Vessels: The second way PDT treats cancer is by drug damaging the blood vessels in the tumor. This would then stop the cancer cells from getting the nutrients they need to grow, so in essence, the PDT may be starving the tumor.

Lung-Sparing Surgery

Another form of treatment that Dr. Friedberg is known for is his lung-sparing surgery. Dr. Friedberg developed the lung-sparing surgery for mesothelioma while he was working at the University of Pennsylvania.

As the name suggests, this procedure — which can take between 6 and 14 hours — strives to save the lung, diaphragm, and sac around the heart, while removing as much of the cancer as possible from the lung’s lining.

The reason Dr. Friedberg wanted to save the lung, even though it is more difficult than removing is to give his patients a better quality of life.

One of the difficulties doctors have with mesothelioma is that the cancer doesn’t form in one large tumor.

Mesothelioma forms in a series of smaller tumors, some of which are too small for the surgeon to see. That is why doctors had to remove the lung and other affected areas.

ut lung-sparing surgery is capable of accomplishing a macroscopic complete resection, which means the operation can remove all detectable cancer in the lung’s lining.

While a macroscopic complete resection does mean the patient still has some mesothelioma tumors, the lung-sparing surgery does increase their life-expectancy.

Did You Know?

The average life expectancy for mesothelioma patients is between 12 to 18 months. However, in Dr. Friedberg’s study of the lung-sparing surgery, the median survival rate — that is how long 50% of the patients were alive after treatment — was 35 months.

If the cancer had not spread to the patient’s lymph nodes, then the patient’s survival rate was even longer. Dr. Friedberg often combines this surgery with PDT to kill the remaining cancer cells.

Other Research Interests

Not one to merely hang his hat on a hook after pioneering a new cancer treatment, Dr. Friedberg is continuing the practice he acquired as a Greenebaum fellow and looking for new ways to turn research into medical practices.

He has also developed photobrachytherapy, which uses a blend of radioisotopes, photosensitizers, tiny phosphorescent substances known as nanophosphors, bioabsorbable plasmonic nanovesicles or tiny fluid-filled sacs that the body can absorb, and immunotherapy to treat cancer.

Dr. Friedberg is continually trying to find new ways to treat mesothelioma patients. Currently, Dr. Friedberg is working on an inhaled sealant that will stop air from leaking out of a patient’s lungs.

He is also trying to find a better way to intubate patients, as well as creating a new minimally invasive device that will help control major blood vessels and a new type of surgical drain.

Working With Dr. Friedberg

Patients working with Dr. Friedberg can trust that they will be in the hands of a skillful and knowledgeable surgeon.

With his innovative as well-researched treatments, Dr. Friedberg has given countless patients back their lives. He is one of the best when it comes to mesothelioma treatment.

Patients who are referred to him can know that they are in the most capable surgical hands and that the man treating them is continually striving to find new and more effective methods of treatment so that his patient’s lives can be longer and better.

For more information on working with Dr. Friedberg, contact the Mesothelioma Justice Network today.

Mesothelioma Support Team
Stephanie KiddWritten by:


Stephanie Kidd grew up in a family of civil servants, blue-collar workers, and medical caregivers. Upon graduating Summa Cum Laude from Stetson University, she began her career specializing in worker safety regulations and communications. Now, a proud member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network, Stephanie serves as a voice for mesothelioma victims and their families.

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