“It’s what the surgeon doesn’t see that kills the patient.”
—Dr. Paul Sugarbaker
Since Dr. Sugarbaker’s initial discovery, he dedicated the rest of his career to refining the technique in an attempt to find the perfect treatment for all peritoneal mesothelioma patients. He has been known as a “last hope” for late-stage peritoneal mesothelioma patients because of his willingness to treat patients who have been turned away by other surgeons.
“I think [mesothelioma] can be cured. I’m convinced it can be cured. There will be a cure.”
—Dr. Paul Sugarbaker
Dr. Paul Sugarbaker’s Career Highlights
- Considered one of the world’s top authorities on mesothelioma
- Invented the “Sugarbaker Procedure” to treat peritoneal mesothelioma
- Former Director of Gastrointestinal Malignancies at MedStar Washington Hospital Center
- Published more than 900 articles and book chapters
Dr. Paul Sugarbaker’s Background
Dr. Paul Sugarbaker received his MD from Cornell University Medical College in New York before completing a surgical residency at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, now known as Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston. Dr. Sugarbaker then completed a Masters in Immunology at the Harvard School of Arts and Science.
In 1976, Dr. Sugarbaker began working at the surgery branch of the National Cancer Institute as a Senior Investigator. He stayed in this position for the next decade, gaining invaluable cancer research experience while working as a senior surgeon.
Dr. Sugarbaker worked at the Emory Clinic in Atlanta for a short while, then moved into his Medical Director position at the Washington Cancer Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in 1989. In 1993, Dr. Sugarbaker became Chief of the Peritoneal Surface Malignancy program at the Washington Hospital Center and Director for their Center for Gastrointestinal Malignancies.
Dr. Sugarbaker is the brother of the late Dr. David Sugarbaker, a renowned pleural mesothelioma specialist.
Dr. Sugarbaker is a retired surgical oncologist who specialized in rare malignancies and cancers, including mesothelioma, colorectal cancer, appendiceal cancer, and pseudomyxoma peritonei. He is a talented gastrointestinal surgeon and is best known for his work treating peritoneal mesothelioma with cytoreductive surgery and heated chemotherapy.
Dr. Sugarbaker also researched cancer and was the primary investigator at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, overseeing the hospital’s clinical trials and research initiatives. All of his research focused on peritoneal metastases, which are cancers that spread on the surface of the abdominal cavity and include mesothelioma.
Dr. Sugarbaker was board-certified in general surgery.
Dr. Paul Sugarbaker’s Career Accomplishments
Dr. Sugarbaker led an extraordinary career with a strong paper trail to prove it. In addition to having over 900 published articles and book chapters, he has edited seven books and created two dozen videos. His professional work has taken him all across the world to every continent, and he has received four honorary professorships.
However, Dr. Sugarbaker is best known for his contributions toward the treatment of mesothelioma and other abdominal conditions. In fact, he is world-famous for the development of his “Sugarbaker Procedure”, a treatment protocol that combines traditional surgery with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC), also known as heated chemotherapy.
“Heated drugs can be augmented in their activity from 20% to 30% up to 1,000%. We try to use the more heat-augmented drugs, like mitomycin, cisplatin, and doxorubicin. We use those in the peritoneal cavity,” said Dr. Sugarbaker. This protocol has extended the lives of cancer patients from across the globe and was a massive step forward in treating cancers that infect thoracic tissues.
Awards & Honours
- Compassionate Doctors
- America’s Top Doctors
- America’s Top Doctors for Cancer
- Top Doctors: Washington DC Area
- Top Doctors: Washington-Baltimore
- Distinguished Service Award by the American Society of Abdominal Surgeons
- Doctor Honoris Causa at the Universite de Liege
- Honorary Professor at Universidad Nacional de Cordoba in Argentina
- Merium Ann Simone Distinguished Service Award – International Spirit of Life Foundation
- E. T. Krementz Award for Best Research Development
- Who’s Who
- ACS Fellow
Dr. Paul Sugarbaker’s Work
Dr. Paul Sugarbaker held several titles before his retirement, including Director of the Center of Gastrointestinal Malignancies and the Chief of Peritoneal Surface Malignancies at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Dr. Sugarbaker previously operated Sugarbaker Oncology (his own medical practice) out of the Hospital Center.
In addition to treating patients, Dr. Sugarbaker endlessly searched for ways to better refine the Sugarbaker Procedure to produce optimal results for all patients. He believed there is a cure for cancers like mesothelioma and maintained his lifelong quest to try to discover it.
Dr. Sugarbaker’s research spans a number of abdominal cancers with a prominent focus on peritoneal mesothelioma. He was also interested in the way cancer spreads to secondary locations in the body and how it can occur in large regions throughout the body, called carcinomatosis.
Notable Work by Dr. Paul Sugarbaker
In his attempt to refine the Sugarbaker Procedure and find a cure for epithelial peritoneal mesothelioma, Dr. Sugarbaker researched the effectiveness of three different protocols. His study reviewed the survival rates of 129 patients, evaluating each protocol to determine the best treatment option for mesothelioma patients.
Each protocol begins with cytoreductive surgery where as much visible tumor is removed as possible. For the first protocol, cytoreductive surgery was followed by heated chemotherapy (HIPEC) immediately following the surgery.
In the second protocol, early postoperative intraperitoneal chemotherapy (EPIC) was added for 5 days after the HIPEC procedure. With EPIC, additional chemotherapy is applied to the abdomen, essentially extending the localized chemo treatment.
For the third protocol, HIPEC and EPIC were followed by NIPEC, a regional chemotherapy that is delivered locally through a port in the abdomen.
While the study noted that the combination of HIPEC and EPIC was not significantly more effective than HIPEC alone, the survival rates greatly increased when the protocol including NIPEC was used. In fact, approximately half of patients lived for 5 years after HIPEC and EPIC, while 75% of patients who received additional NIPEC were alive.
This increase in survival rates is extraordinarily promising for mesothelioma patients, as it suggests that mesothelioma may not be a fatal disease for some patients. In fact, survival rates of mesothelioma patients are likely to continue to increase as time goes on and cancer research continues.
Dr. Paul Sugarbaker’s Healing Philosophy
Dr. Paul Sugarbaker took an aggressive approach to curing peritoneal conditions, including mesothelioma, and he’s known for taking risks that could potentially extend his patients’ lives. In fact, the HIPEC procedure was initially a highly controversial one due to its intense, postoperative nature. Two decades later, it has become a fairly common treatment for mesothelioma patients.
Outside of the operating room, Dr. Sugarbaker was also extraordinarily ambitious in his endless quest to cure peritoneal cancers and constantly tried to refine the medical procedures that could potentially lead to a cure.