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 1,000 articles and book chapters
Since his initial discovery of mesothelioma while operating on a patient, Dr. Sugarbaker decided to dedicate 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 Background
Dr. Paul Sugarbaker earned his doctoral degree 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. He also holds a master’s degree in immunology from 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 remained 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, and eventually 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 of its 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.
Alongside his career in the field of surgical oncology, Dr. Sugarbaker was a cancer researcher and 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 more than 1,000 published articles and book chapters, he has edited seven books and created two dozen videos. His professional work has taken him to five continents, and he has received four honorary professorships.
As an internationally recognized physician, Dr. Sugarbaker is best known for his contributions to the treatment of mesothelioma and other abdominal conditions.
In fact, he is world famous for the development of the “Sugarbaker Procedure,” a treatment protocol that combines cytoreduction surgery with perthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC), also known as heated chemotherapy.
“Heated drugs can be augmented in their activity from 20% to 30% up to 1,000%,” explained Dr. Sugarbaker. “We try to use the more heat-augmented drugs, like mitomycin, cisplatin, and doxorubicin. We use those in the peritoneal cavity.”
This protocol has extended the lives of cancer patients all over the globe and was a massive step forward in treating cancers that infect thoracic tissues.
Awards & Honors
- ACS Fellow
- America’s Top Doctors
- America’s Top Doctors for Cancer
- Compassionate Doctors
- Distinguished Service Award (American Society of Abdominal Surgeons)
- Doctor Honoris Causa at the Universite de Liege
- E. T. Krementz Award for Best Research Development
- Honorary Professor at Universidad Nacional de Cordoba in Argentina
- Merium Ann Simone Distinguished Service Award (International Spirit of Life Foundation)
- Top Doctors: Washington-Baltimore
- Top Doctors: Washington DC Area
Dr. Paul Sugarbaker’s Legacy
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. He previously managed his private practice, Sugarbaker Oncology, at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center.
In addition to treating patients, Dr. Sugarbaker continually searched for ways to improve the Sugarbaker Procedure in order to produce optimal results for all patients. He believed that there is a cure for cancers like mesothelioma and maintained his lifelong quest 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 carcinomatosis, studying the way that cancer spreads to secondary locations in the body, especially in large regions.
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 immediately followed by heated chemotherapy (HIPEC).
- 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.
Approximately 50% of patients lived for 5 years after HIPEC and EPIC, and 75% of patients who received additional NIPEC were alive after 10 years.
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 aggressively pursued a cure for peritoneal conditions, including mesothelioma, and he is known for taking risks that could potentially extend patients’ lives. In fact, the HIPEC procedure was initially deemed highly controversial because of its intense postoperative nature.
Two decades later, it has become a fairly common treatment for mesothelioma.