About Dr. Sugarbaker
Dr. Paul H. Sugarbaker is the son of a cancer surgeon, so perhaps it was inevitable that his path should take him into medicine. His older brother, the late Dr. David Sugarbaker, is an internationally recognized thoracic surgeon who specialized in the treatment of mesothelioma.
He currently stands as the Chief of the Peritoneal Surface Malignancy Program and the Director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Malignancies at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC.
He has dedicated his career to investigating rare diseases, particularly malignant (cancerous) peritoneal mesothelioma. Sugarbaker believes that this rare form of cancer can, one day, be cured. He is known as a “last hope” for late-stage peritoneal mesothelioma patients who have been turned down by other surgeons.
Dr. Paul Sugarbaker is most notable for pioneering a specialized treatment to cure abdominal cancers, called cytoreductive surgery with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC).
The cytoreductive surgery with HIPEC is a treatment approach known as “The Sugarbaker Procedure.” Though the method was widely criticized, it is now a common procedure to treat mesothelioma patients. Survival rates are now rising in conjunction with cancer research.
Over half of malignant peritoneal mesothelioma patients who undergo the “Sugarbaker Procedure” live 5 years or longer.
Prior to cytoreduction with HIPEC becoming a standard peritoneal mesothelioma treatment, patients could expect to survive less than 21 months. Dr. Paul Sugarbaker’s treatment approach has dramatically increased survival times and ignited new hope for patients and their families.
As a founding member of the International Society of Regional Cancer Therapy, Dr. Paul Sugarbaker has received the Distinguished Service Award from the American Society of Abdominal Surgeons.
His work has also taken him overseas, lecturing at numerous universities and becoming a member of The Royal College of Surgeons of England and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, Scotland.
Growing up in Missouri, Dr. Paul Sugarbaker moved to New York City to attend medical school at Cornell University Medical College before progressing to his residency at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (now known as Brigham and Women’s Hospital) in Boston.
In his final year, Dr. Sugarbaker was named Surgical Chief Resident, before going completing his fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Dr. Paul Sugarbaker later achieved an MA degree in Immunology from Harvard School of Arts and Sciences. After his training in surgery at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Dr. Sugarbaker spent ten years as a senior surgeon at the National Institute of Health, National Cancer Institute.
Dr. Sugarbaker is a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, Scotland.
He also occupies the editorial boards of eleven journals and is a member of the American College of Surgeons, the European Society of Surgical Oncology, and a founding member of the International Society of Regional Cancer Therapy.
In 1989, Dr. Paul Sugarbaker was appointed medical director of the Washington Cancer Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center and has been working there for over 20 years.
After only three years into the position, he also became director of the peritoneal surface oncology program within the same cancer institute.
Dr. Paul Sugarbaker’s Medical Specializations
Dr. Sugarbaker is a surgical oncologist who specializes 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.
He specializes in rare peritoneal metastases such as:
- Colorectal cancer
- Gastrointestinal cancer
- Appendiceal cancer
Thanks to his work on advanced-stage abdominal cancers, he coined a new method named “The Sugarbaker Procedure.”
The “Sugarbaker Procedure” is a treatment option designed for peritoneal mesothelioma and was initially criticized for being too radical.
Persevering with the technique he believed in, Dr. Sugarbaker began openly promoting his procedure as the safest way to treat these rare, high-risk cancers.
The surgery itself begins by removing the lining of the abdominal cavity so that the surgeon can thoroughly examine all organs for cancer. At this stage, they meticulously remove the mesothelioma cells before pumping in a heated chemotherapy solution for up to 90 minutes.
Using the HIPEC method allows the organs to bathe in the substance before rinsing out the solution and closing the incisions. It’s a lengthy procedure, taking up to 10 hours in the worst cases, but it has been credited to lengthen the lives of many patients.
Dr. Paul Sugarbaker’s motto is, “It’s what the surgeon doesn’t see that kills the patient.”
It’s Dr. Sugarbaker’s attention to detail that inspires many of his patients to seek his advice and book their treatment.
After seeing the success of the procedure, Dr. Sugarbaker and his professional medical advice have been widely celebrated. His research findings have been published in a book on sarcoma cancer surgery, which is available in five languages.
To this date, Dr. Sugarbaker has performed around 1,500 cytoreductive surgeries with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy. His findings have been published in more than 800 books and articles around the world.
Dr. Sugarbaker’s most notable achievement is his research and investigation into patients with peritoneal mesothelioma.
His pioneering “Sugarbaker Procedure” is world-renowned, but in recent years he has added long-term regional chemotherapy into the treatment process — a move which has nearly doubled the number of patients expected to reach the five-year survival rate.
Peritoneal mesothelioma starts in the membrane surrounding the abdominal organs and is so rare that less than 1,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with it annually.
Caused by ingesting or inhaling toxic asbestos fibers, the disease then develops in the abdomen or gastrointestinal system, as opposed to the chest and lungs.
Common symptoms include abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, weight loss, and fluid in the peritoneal cavity, but due to its rarity, it is frequently misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a hernia, or ovarian cancer.
Dr. Paul Sugarbaker’s Work at Washington Hospital Center
Dr. Paul Sugarbaker currently holds several titles, including Director of the Center of Gastrointestinal Malignancies and the Chief of Peritoneal Surface Malignancies at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where he has worked since 1989. Dr. Sugarbaker also operates Sugarbaker Oncology (his own medical practice) out of the Hospital Center.
In addition to continuing to treat patients, Dr. Sugarbaker is endlessly searching for ways to better refine the Sugarbaker Procedure to produce optimal results for all patients. He believes there is a cure for cancers like mesothelioma and is maintaining his lifelong quest to try to discover it.
Dr. Sugarbaker’s ongoing research spans a number of abdominal cancers with a prominent focus on peritoneal mesothelioma. His clinical and investigative research is focused on the treatment of peritoneal (abdominal) cancers. He is 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.
His 2017 article in the European Journal of Surgical Oncology (EJSO) delved into the results of long-term regional chemotherapy for patients with epithelial (the mesothelioma cell type) peritoneal mesothelioma.
His findings show positive results, with the 5-year survival of patients treated with hyperthermic perioperative chemotherapy (HIPEC), early postoperative intraperitoneal chemotherapy (EPIC), and normothermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (NIPEC) at 75%.
The survival rate for peritoneal mesothelioma is very promising. As research into cancer treatments progresses it suggests that mesothelioma patients may have a cure in the not-so-distant future.
Awards & Honors
- 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 Córdoba 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 Healing Philosophy
Dr. Paul Sugarbaker takes 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 is also extraordinarily ambitious in his endless quest to cure peritoneal cancers and is constantly trying to refine the medical procedures that could potentially lead to a cure. Now in his 70’s, he shows no signs of slowing down in this mission.
Yet, Dr. Sugarbaker still puts the patient first and believes that personalized care and treatment strategies have to be determined on an individual level.
Working With Dr. Paul Sugarbaker
Known as the best surgeon in his field, patients always feel incredibly assured in the capable hands of Dr. Paul Sugarbaker.
Being highly detail-oriented, many peritoneal mesothelioma patients seek the help of Dr. Paul Sugarbaker for his expertise, precision, and determination to find a cure.
Dr. Sugarbaker admits that younger patients (and women in particular) have a better chance of seeing positive results after treatment. But he’s adamant that a cure can one day be found to treat everyone.
He’s optimistic, yet doesn’t sugar-coat the fact that mesothelioma is a severe disease.
Other surgical oncologists have been cited as saying that mesothelioma could become a manageable disease, like diabetes, but Dr. Sugarbaker doesn’t like the comparison for fear of giving false hope.
For more information on working with Dr. Paul Sugarbaker, please contact our team today.