Mesothelioma Doctors

Mesothelioma is a rare and complex disease. Treating it requires expert knowledge from experienced doctors who can develop a potentially life-extending treatment strategy. Patients should choose a mesothelioma specialist based on the doctor’s experience with their diagnosis, location of their mesothelioma, and cell type.

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What Is a Mesothelioma Doctor?

Mesothelioma doctors are specialized cancer doctors who focus their education, practice, and research on treating mesothelioma. Experts in mesothelioma often work in or head centers dedicated to mesothelioma treatment.

Video Summary: Registered Nurse Amy Fair discusses the types of doctors you need on your team when being diagnosed and treated for mesothelioma. View Transcript.

Who should be on my medical team for treatment?

The health professionals that should be on your team starts with your primary medical doctor because you may have other comorbidities or things your taking medication for or diseases. Normally that referral goes into a pulmonologist or a gastroenterologist depending on what type of mesothelioma you have, whether it be pleural or peritoneal. That will normally proceed into a surgical component, surgeon, and then lead into an oncology or radiology component. It’s also very important that you have a nutritionist on this team. Many facilities have what they call a tumor board that comprises these disciplines together. The continuity of care of phenomenal with a tumor board.

Mesothelioma doctors may work as:

  • Medical oncologists: These doctors treat mesothelioma with chemotherapy and other medications.
  • Surgical oncologists: These doctors treat mesothelioma by performing surgery.
  • Radiation oncologists: Radiologists treat mesothelioma with radiation therapy.

All mesothelioma specialists work with other members of a patient’s medical care team such as nurses to provide the most effective treatments and customized care to each individual.

Mesothelioma doctors are on the cutting edge of new and groundbreaking treatments as they devote their entire careers to finding a cure for this cancer type. They usually treat patients and conduct ongoing scientific research to discover new and better ways to fight mesothelioma.

Most of the groundbreaking findings that have led to life-extending treatments are a direct result of the work of mesothelioma specialists.

Mesothelioma is a complex and rare disease that most oncologists will only see a few times in their career. Mesothelioma doctors see only patients like you or your loved one and have a breadth of experience about mesothelioma that results in more effective treatment, better care, and an improved outcome.

Quick Facts about Mesothelioma Doctors

  • Mesothelioma doctors focus not just on the diagnosis and treatment of mesothelioma, but on discovering better ways to treat the disease.
  • Mesothelioma doctors work in mesothelioma cancer centers — centers focused on improving the length and quality of life for victims of mesothelioma.
  • Many mesothelioma doctors go beyond standardized care, developing new treatments through clinical trials.
  • Mesothelioma doctors make it their business to not only understand mesothelioma but to understand the needs and concerns of their patients.

Why See a Mesothelioma Doctor?

Mesothelioma is rare, accounting for only about 0.3% of all cancer diagnoses. While doctors diagnose over 220,000 cases of lung cancer each year, only around 3,000 new mesothelioma cases are diagnosed annually, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Because of this rarity, the broader medical community is not nearly as familiar with mesothelioma as it is with more common cancers.

Many oncologists have never treated a mesothelioma patient over the course of their medical careers.

This may cause general oncologists to misdiagnose mesothelioma, which often presents like other cancers, pneumonia, or even the flu. This delays an accurate diagnosis and potentially life-extending treatment.

Better treatment outcomes rely on early diagnosis and determination of mesothelioma stage, type of mesothelioma, and cell type, with which a mesothelioma specialist is more familiar.

Top Mesothelioma Doctors

It is crucial to find a mesothelioma doctor who specializes in the type of mesothelioma a patient has.

Because mesothelioma is so difficult to treat, many mesothelioma doctors choose to sub-specialize in a certain type of mesothelioma.

Most mesothelioma doctors subspecialize in:

  • Pleural mesothelioma
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma

Unfortunately, pericardial and testicular mesothelioma are so rare that doctors rarely become specialists in these types of mesothelioma. However, many mesothelioma doctors will treat patients with rarer mesothelioma types.

Some mesothelioma doctors specialize in a specific stage of the disease. For example, a patient with pleural mesothelioma in its early stages often requires surgery by a thoracic surgeon who specializes in mesothelioma.

A patient in the later stages of mesothelioma may receive chemotherapy from a medical oncologist who specializes in the disease.

It is important to confirm that the mesothelioma specialist a patient is seeing specializes in the type and stage of mesothelioma that they have.

Pleural Mesothelioma Doctors

Pleural mesothelioma specialists are usually thoracic (chest area) surgeons who provide expertise in surgically removing cancerous tumors from the lining of the lungs and chest.

In the last 20 years, some of these specialists have pioneered ground-breaking new methods of surgery that have resulted in more positive outcomes for patients.

Dr. Robert Cameron

The renowned Dr. Robert Cameron developed the lung-saving pleurectomy with decortication (P/D) surgical technique that has revolutionized pleural mesothelioma surgery. He heads the mesothelioma program at the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center and also serves as chief of surgery at the West Los Angeles Veterans’ Administration Medical Center. Dr. Cameron co-founded and served as the former director of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Center.

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Dr. Avi Lebenthal

Dr. Avi Lebenthal is a thoracic surgical oncologist who brings his talent and expertise to civilians and veterans alike. As a veteran of Israeli’s military, he has a unique understanding of veterans’ healthcare. Skilled in all types of pleural mesothelioma surgery, he has a special passion for minimally-invasive surgeries. Dr. Lebenthal practices at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the VA Boston Healthcare System.

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Dr. Joseph Freidberg

Dr. Joseph Freidberg is passionate about developing new and more effective treatments for mesothelioma. He is currently working on photodynamic therapy which uses a photosensitizing drug that interacts with light to kill cancer cells. Dr. Freidberg is the Charles Reid Edwards Professor of Surgery and head of the Thoracic Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He was recognized by Best Doctors in America in 2009 and 2011.

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Dr. Taylor Ripley

Dr. Taylor Ripley is a nationally recognized thoracic surgeon specializing in the treatment of mesothelioma at Baylor’s St. Luke’s Medical Center. For the last ten years, he has focused his career on mesothelioma after training extensively in its treatment under world-renowned surgeons during his fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

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Dr. David Sugarbaker

The late Dr. David Sugarbaker stands as a giant in mesothelioma research and treatment. He was instrumental in the founding of the renowned mesothelioma treatment center at Baylor Saint Luke’s Hospital in Houston, Texas. Dr. Sugarbaker is recognized as a pioneer in the study and treatment of mesothelioma, having developed a life-extending surgery called the extrapleural pneumonectomy. Deeply respected in his field, he trained many of the next generation of mesothelioma specialists and is referred to by one of his mentees, Dr. Avi Leventhal, to be the “gold standard” of mesothelioma care.

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Dr. Harvey Pass

Dr. Harvey Pass is passionate about research to aid in earlier detection of thoracic malignancies like pleural mesothelioma to ensure better survival rates. He is also known for taking a highly personal approach to care. He serves as the director of general thoracic surgery and chief of thoracic oncology at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center.

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Dr. Raja Flores

Dr. Raja Flores is a recognized leader in the field of thoracic surgery for his pioneering efforts in the treatment of mesothelioma. He developed the VATS lobectomy, a minimally invasive approach to the surgical treatment of lung cancer. He chairs the Department of Thoracic Surgery at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.

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Dr. Raphael Bueno

Dr. Raphael Bueno has devoted the last 20 years of his career to mesothelioma and developed a revolutionary technique to help diagnose the disease. Dr. Bueno serves as the Chief of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and is considered one of the top specialists in the field today in one of the top programs in the world for mesothelioma treatment and research.

Dr. Marcelo DaSilva

Dr. Marcelo DaSilva believes in a holistic and individualized approach to creating treatment plans and has a wealth of experience in treating mesothelioma. He is one of few doctors who treats both pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal. Formerly a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts, he now leads thoracic surgery at AdventHealth Systems in Orlando, Florida.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma Doctors

Peritoneal mesothelioma doctors treat cancer of the lining of the abdominal cavity (the peritoneum), which surrounds the abdominal organs.

Mesothelioma in this area results in numerous tumors throughout the inside of the abdomen, which can be very difficult to treat because of the invasiveness of the cancer.

Dr. Paul Sugarbaker

Dr. Paul Sugarbaker revolutionized the landscape of peritoneal mesothelioma treatment and is considered one of the nation’s most talented gastrointestinal surgeons. He is the older brother to the late Dr. David Sugarbaker who specialized in pleural mesothelioma.

Dr. Paul Sugarbaker pioneered the use of cytoreduction with HIPEC, also known as “the Sugarbaker Technique,” to treat peritoneal mesothelioma. The Sugarbaker Technique has proved to be incredibly successful, yielding an average 5-year patient survival rate.

Dr. Sugarbaker practices in Washington, D.C. at the Center for Surgical Oncology at the Washington Cancer Institute.

Dr. James Pingpank

Dr. James Pingpank holds a special interest in regional treatment strategies that are less impactful on the rest of the body such as cytoreduction with HIPEC.

He is an associate professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh and a surgical oncologist at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh and is devoted to improving outcomes for those suffering from peritoneal mesothelioma.

Dr. Hedy Lee Kindler

Dr. Hedy Lee Kindler lost her father to mesothelioma, instilling a lifelong passion in her to improve survival rates for those with mesothelioma.

Dr. Kindler is a distinguished researcher and medical oncologist at the University of Chicago Cancer Center and focuses much of her research on chemotherapy drugs such as Alimta and gemcitabine.

Dr. Richard Alexander

Dr. Richard Alexander ranks as one of the leading peritoneal mesothelioma specialists and is credited with advancing the treatment of the disease through his extensive research. Dr. Alexander discovered proteins essential to mesothelioma growth and is now working on new treatments to target these proteins.

He serves as the Chief Surgical Officer at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey as well as a Professor of Surgery at the University of Maryland.

Other Mesothelioma Doctors

The vast majority of mesothelioma cases are pleural or peritoneal. However, other rare forms of mesothelioma do exist. Because these mesothelioma types are so uncommon, it may not be possible to find a specialist. However, other mesothelioma specialists may have experience with these types.

Pericardial Mesothelioma Doctors

Pericardial mesothelioma is extremely rare, representing roughly 1% of the 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma each year. Treatment involves the highly skilled surgery of removing tumors embedded in the lining around the heart.

Very few surgeons possess the expertise necessary to diagnose and perform treatment for a patient with pericardial mesothelioma. However, a few of the nation’s top pleural mesothelioma surgeons are also trained cardiac surgeons, able to perform surgeries to treat pericardial mesothelioma.

Testicular Mesothelioma Doctors

Testicular mesothelioma is even rarer than the pericardial variety. It presents as a tumor in the lining surrounding the testes (the tunica vaginalis), often causing fluid build-up in the scrotum. Because the occurrence of the disease is so unusual there are very few doctors who have seen one case, let alone more.

Dr. Yigit Akin and his colleagues at the Department of Urology at Hurran University School of Medicine in Sanliurfa, Turkey published a paper on the condition, calling urologists to check for the possibility of this rare cancer when diagnosing patients with testicular cancers.

Choosing a Mesothelioma Doctor

When choosing a mesothelioma specialist, you are trusting this professional with your life. This is a frightening time for you or your loved one and it’s important that the doctor you choose is a good fit for you.

Make sure your specialist has the experience necessary to effectively treat your stage and type of mesothelioma.

When considering if a mesothelioma doctor is a good fit for you:

  • Ask how long they have been practicing, how many mesothelioma cases they have treated, and what kind of mesothelioma they have experience with.
  • Seek a mesothelioma specialist who communicates well with you and explains your disease thoroughly and understandably.
  • Request a complete range of treatment options and their full explanation, as well as resulting side effects, and effectiveness.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions and for further explanation if you need it.

Experience

It is crucial to learn how much experience the mesothelioma doctor that you are considering has with diagnosing and treating mesothelioma patients. The more years the doctor has practiced and the more mesothelioma patients they have seen, the better they may be at treating your mesothelioma.

Since no patient is alike, a doctor who has seen numerous mesothelioma patients will have more experience and a deeper fund of knowledge about the different aspects and manifestations of the disease. This translates into more effective treatment for you.

Communication

Mesothelioma is a complex and rare disease. Most people know little about the disease until they are faced with it. You need a doctor who can explain clearly, patiently, and kindly exactly what is happening to you.

Find a doctor willing to take the time to answer your questions and concerns with care and competence. They should treat your case as individually as they should treat you.

Treatment Options

Different mesothelioma doctors provide different treatment options depending on their specialty.

Treatment options might include:

  • Surgery to remove all or some of the tumors or relieve the side effects of the cancer.
  • Chemotherapy to kill cancer cells in the affected area.
  • Radiation to kill cancer cells in localized areas.
  • Clinical trials to test newly developed drugs and their effect on fighting your cancer.

The right doctor for you depends on the kind of treatment that will best fight your mesothelioma.

Preparing for an Appointment With a Mesothelioma Doctor

Before your first appointment with a mesothelioma doctor, you should prepare as well as you can to make sure you make the most of your time.

The following may help you prepare for an appointment with a mesothelioma doctor:

  • Before the appointment, make sure you have medical records as well as hard copies of any scans you have already had.
  • You may also arrange for the mesothelioma doctor to access records digitally ahead of time.
  • Create a summary of your medical history as well as your work history that might involve any asbestos exposure.
  • Compose a list of your symptoms and their onset.
  • Bring a list of the medications you take.
  • Write down any questions you have so you don’t forget to ask them during the appointment.

These preparations should help the mesothelioma specialist give you as much useful information as quickly as possible.

Your Initial Appointment With a Mesothelioma Doctor

At your initial appointment, you will meet with your doctor or a team of specialists.

During your initial appointment, you may discuss:

  • Any test results you already have
  • Your medical history
  • Any work history that might be related to asbestos exposure
  • Your diagnosis and what symptoms to expect in the upcoming months
  • Which treatment options may benefit you the most

You will receive a lot of information during that visit so you may want to bring a notepad and pen to take notes if necessary. Bringing your spouse or a trusted loved one provides an extra pair of ears and may be helpful later when you are making decisions about treatment.

Questions to Ask Mesothelioma Doctors

Don’t be afraid to ask questions at any time. Your mesothelioma specialist wants you to be informed about everything that is happening to you.

Questions to ask regarding specific treatments:
  • What is the success rate?

  • What are the side effects?

  • What will my quality of life be like during and after treatment?

  • Are the most up-to-date treatments offered at this mesothelioma center?

  • Does my insurance cover this treatment?

Other questions:
  • Are there any clinical trials I can take part in?

  • What is my long term prognosis?

  • What if I decline treatment? What should I expect?

  • If I proceed with treatment, what should I expect?

  • Are there any experimental treatments offered elsewhere that are not offered at this facility?

Mesothelioma Doctor FAQ

This is all new to you and its overwhelming. Because mesothelioma is a rare cancer most know little about these kinds of specialists until they are needed. Mesothelioma specialists tackle your cancer first by finding out exactly where it is, what it looks like, and how far it’s spread.

How does a doctor diagnose mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma doctors diagnose mesothelioma using methods such as imaging scans, biopsies, and sometimes other methods like blood tests.

Mesothelioma doctors make take the following steps to make a diagnosis:

  1. The mesothelioma doctor will begin by conducting a physical examination to check for lumps and any other unusual signs.
  2. Imaging scans such as an X-ray or CT might be ordered to look for signs of tumors in the affected area or to more accurately stage a patient.
  3. Using the resulting images to tell where the cancer may be located, doctors perform a biopsy — a procedure that removes a small portion of tissue to be tested for cancer cells. A biopsy is performed to confirm a mesothelioma diagnosis.
  4. Further testing may include an MRI or PET scan to indicate the stage of the cancer.

These methods provide a good idea of what is happening in your body, enabling mesothelioma specialists to determine if you have mesothelioma and, if so, allowing them to make a plan of action to fight your cancer.

What is a mesothelioma oncologist?

An oncologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing, treating, and studying cancer. A mesothelioma oncologist is a cancer doctor who specializes in treating mesothelioma with chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and/or conducts clinical trials.

Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that is very difficult to diagnose and treat. To receive the best chance of receiving an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment, you should seek treatment from a doctor who has spent years learning about and treating mesothelioma.

Should I get a second opinion from a mesothelioma doctor?

If you have already been diagnosed by an oncologist who does not specialize in mesothelioma, then it’s important that you get a second opinion from a mesothelioma specialist.

This form of cancer can be very difficult to tell apart from many other tumors and cancers, so it is essential to get the opinion of someone who is trained in how to identify mesothelioma in particular.

In addition, a general oncologist may not be aware of cutting-edge treatments available — or the ongoing clinical trials to find new and better methods to treat mesothelioma. Getting a second opinion from a specialist can mean vital information about your treatment options.

If you have already seen a mesothelioma specialist and still are uncertain or feel it is not the right fit, then you should seek a second opinion from another well-qualified mesothelioma doctor who is experienced with your disease.

Finding a Mesothelioma Doctor Near You

Although mesothelioma specialists are working in major hospitals across the U.S., most are found in large cities and may not be within driving distance of your home. A successful treatment outcome may depend on finding top quality care delivered by doctors who deeply understand how to treat patients like you.

If you or a loved one has received a mesothelioma diagnosis from a general doctor or oncologist, seek a second opinion from a mesothelioma specialist as soon as possible.

The Mesothelioma Justice Center team is available to provide you with more information and answer questions you may have. Contact us today to learn more.

Mesothelioma Support Team
Reviewed by:Dr. Mark Levin

Certified Oncologist and Hematologist

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Mark Levin, MD has nearly 30 years of experience in academic and community hematology and oncology. In addition to serving as Chief or Director at four different teaching institutions throughout his life, he is also still a practicing clinician, has taught and designed formal education programs, and has authored numerous publications in various fields related to hematology and oncology.

Dr. Mark Levin is an independently paid medical reviewer.

Beth SwantekWritten by:

Contributing Author at the Mesothelioma Justice Center

Beth Swantek has been writing about the dangers of asbestos since 2013. Beth served as a media professional for over 30 years and began her career as a broadcast journalist. After her daughter suffered a traumatic brain injury at birth, Beth has devoted her life to helping men and women experiencing deep loss — such as those living with mesothelioma.

View 3 Sources
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    056b104be.
  2. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.) Asbestos and Mesothelioma. Retrieved from
    https://www.boston.va.gov/services/surgical/Asbestos_and_Mesothelioma.asp.
  3. MedStar Health Research Institute. (n.d.) Paul Sugarbaker. Retrieved from
    https://www.medstarhealth.org/mhri/physician-investigator/paul-sugarbaker/#q=.
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