Dr. David Sugarbaker, Mesothelioma Treatment Pioneer, Dies at 65

Treatment & Doctors
David Sugarbaker at Baylor College of Medicine

Thoracic surgeon Dr. David Sugarbaker, a world leader in advancing the treatment of pleural mesothelioma for nearly 30 years, has died.

He was 65.

Sugarbaker was director of the Lung Institute at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Dr. Raja Flores, thoracic surgeon and mesothelioma specialist at Mount Sinai Cancer Center, expressed his respect for the famed surgeon.

“He was a giant in the field. He not only took care of the mesothelioma patients, he trained a whole generation of doctors who will continue taking care of those patients,” said Flores, who trained under Sugarbaker. “It’s a sad day for everyone. We will keep him in our prayers.”

Sugarbaker joined Baylor College of Medicine in 2014 after 26 years at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where he built the most prestigious mesothelioma cancer treatment program in the United States.

In Boston, he developed and refined the surgical techniques that lowered mortality rates and extended the lives of so many patients diagnosed with this rare and aggressive cancer that has no cure.

He earned the respect of both patients and peers, many of whom traveled across the country and from other countries to be part of his work.

‘The Mentor of Mentors’

Dr. Jacques Fontaine, a thoracic surgeon who trained under Sugarbaker, started the Mesothelioma Research and Treatment Center at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

“His legacy will endure through the accomplishments of all the prominent thoracic surgeons he has trained,” Fontaine said. “He is the mentor of mentors. His vision, focus and dedication to advancing the treatment of mesothelioma have influenced an entire generation of thoracic surgeons.”

Sugarbaker’s Enduring Dedication to His Patients

Sugarbaker joined Baylor College of Medicine to build the Lung Institute, where he hoped to create a bigger and even better program in Houston than the one he had founded in Boston.

Some of his mesothelioma patients from Boston had been traveling to Houston for checkups and treatment.

Other patients seeing him in Houston had survived more than five years beyond their life expectancies. A small group has passed the 10-year mark after surgery. They continued seeing him regularly.

His following in the mesothelioma community — among patients and peers — was unmatched.

“In this field [of mesothelioma], he is the gold standard. I don’t think you’ll get any argument over that,” said Dr. Abraham Lebenthal, one of many thoracic surgeons Sugarbaker trained in Boston. “He is Dr. Mesothelioma.”

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