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Dr. David Sugarbaker

David Sugarbaker, M.D.

Dr. David Sugarbaker died on August 29, 2018. A world-renowned doctor and certified thoracic surgeon, Dr. Sugarbaker was widely credited for developing the first tri-modal treatment approach for malignant pleural mesothelioma. His former leadership appointments include Professor of Surgery and Chief of General Thoracic Surgery at the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery and Director of the Lung Institute at Baylor College of Medicine. Previous to those positions, Dr. Sugarbaker served as Chief of Thoracic Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Chief of Surgical Services at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Executive Vice-Chair of Department of Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School.

Educational Background

Dr. Sugarbaker completed his undergraduate degree at Wheaton College in Illinois and received his MD from Cornell University Medical College in 1979. In addition, he completed residencies at several prestigious hospitals including Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Toronto General Hospital and Toronto Hospital for Sick Children at the University of Toronto.

Clinical and Laboratory Research

Dr. Sugarbaker has been one of the world’s leading experts in the diagnosis and treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma. The majority of Dr. Sugarbaker’s clinical and laboratory research centered upon the development of what has been termed a “tri-modal” therapeutic approach; a three-pronged method using a combination of radical surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy to treat patients diagnosed with the disease. Specifically, Sugarbaker’s highly-regarded treatment for mesothelioma patients includes extrapleural pneumonectomy, pleurectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Dr. Sugarbaker’s research and experience, as well as his application of this tri-modal procedure, has led to significant improvements in survival rates among malignant pleural mesothelioma patients.

In addition, Sugarbaker’s research focusing on the better tailoring of cancer drugs to individual patients was profiled in the Wall Street Journal in 2008. As the leader of a small study at Brigham and Women’s concerning genetic mutations in cancer cells, Sugarbaker’s team discovered that every patient’s tumor boasted a different group of mutated genes and that no gene was mutated in more than one patient, explaining why chemo works for some and not for others. The research team argues that the research of these mutated genes in each cancer patient would better assist doctors in choosing the correct drug(s) for treatment and, hence, better the prognosis for many patients. These are just a couple of examples that reflect Sugarbaker’s impact on the mesothelioma community and efforts towards finding the best treatment options available.

Additional Work

In addition to his surgical work and laboratory research, Dr. Sugarbaker worked to share his knowledge by attending lectures worldwide, often as a keynote speaker, discussing mesothelioma treatment and his approach with medical professionals, patients and their families.

In an effort to address the growing number of mesothelioma cases worldwide, Dr. Sugarbaker founded the International Mesothelioma Program at the Brigham, focused not only on treatment and research of the disease but also on the support of patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma as well as their families. The program, made up of a multi-disciplinary team of doctors from some of the Boston area’s best institutions, has worked to develop new treatment strategies that will extend life expectancy and better patient care for mesothelioma patients. The program also employs social workers, palliative care professionals, and spiritual counselors to offer emotional support to those afflicted with the disease in hopes of improving quality of life for victims of mesothelioma. In addition, by building a database of those with the disease, the International Pleural Mesothelioma Program has sought to create a far-reaching network of professionals who can collaborate with each other to establish consistent protocols for treating this aggressive form of cancer.

As the leader of the comprehensive lung disease center at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Sugarbaker pushed continuously for clinical and translational research to develop new and more effective treatments for mesothelioma with a goal of getting these innovative treatments to patients as soon as possible.

Dr. Sugarbaker’s research and clinical experience has also earned him recognition at both national and international levels, naming him “America’s Top Doctors” by Castle Connolly for over a decade with special distinctions. His efforts and wealth of knowledge have made a large impact on the mesothelioma community and continue to pave a path towards further discoveries.


New Concepts in the Treatment of Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma. Annual Review of Medicine. January 2018;69:365-377. doi: 10.1146/annurev-med-041316-085813.

Malignant pleural mesothelioma: key determinants in tailoring the right treatment for the right patient. Journal of Thoracic Disease. March 2017;9(3):485-489. doi: 10.21037/jtd.2017.03.27.

Phase III Intergroup Study of Talc Poudrage vs Talc SLurry Sclerosis for Malignant Pleural Effusion. Chest. November 15, 2015;127(3):909-915. doi: 10.1378/chest.127.3.909.

Phase III Trial of Trimodality Therapy With Cisplatin, Fluorouracil, Radiotherapy, and Surgery Compared With Surgery Alone for Esophageal Cancer: CALGB 9781. Journal of Clinical Oncology. March 1, 2008: 26(7):1086-1092. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2007.12.9593.

Phase I to II Study of Pleurectomy/Decortication and Intraoperative Intracavitary Hyperthermic Cisplatin Lavage for Mesothelioma. Journal of Clinical Oncology. April 1, 2006;24(10):1561-1567.

Prevention, early detection, and management of complications after 328 consecutive extrapleural pneumonectomies. Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. July 2004;128(1):138-146.

Pleural Biopsy: A Reliable Method for Determining the Diagnosis But Not Subtype in Mesothelioma. Annals of Thoracic Surgery. November 2004;78(5):1774-1776.

Resection margins, extrapleural nodal status, and cell type determine postoperativ long-term survival in trimodality therapy of malignant pleural mesothelioma: results in 183 patients. Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. January 1999;117(1):54-65.

Pleuropneumonectomy in the treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma. Chest. December 1999;116(6 Suppl):450S-454S.

Extrapleural pneumonectomy in the setting of multimodality therapy for diffuse malignant pleural mesothelioma. Seminars in Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. October 1997;9(4):373-82.

Extrapleural pneumonectomy, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy in the treatment of diffuse malignant pleural mesothelioma. Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. July 1991;102(1):10-4:discussion 14-15.

Author: Linda Molinari

Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Linda Molinari

Reviewer: Annette Charlevois

Patient Support Coordinator

Annette Charlevois


Baylor College of Medicine

Baylor College of Medicine News

Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Department of Thoracic Surgery. Boston, MA.

Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Department of Thoracic Surgery/Thoracic Oncology

Dr. David J. Sugarbaker. Richard E. Wilson Professor of Surgery. Harvard Medical School. Boston, MA

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