Mesothelioma Specialist Brings HIPEC Expertise to Stanford

Treatment & Doctors

Surgical oncologist and mesothelioma specialist Dr. Byrne Lee spent close to a decade in Southern California, building a well-respected peritoneal surface malignancy program at City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center.

He wants to build a bigger and better one now — second to none — almost 400 miles away.

The quest is well underway.

Lee, 45, joined the renowned Stanford Cancer Institute in October 2019 with a well-defined vision: Helping an elite academic institution become even better with a program for a previously underserved population.

“I had a great career in Los Angeles. I’m proud of that program, the legacy left behind, but the idea of starting a new one here at Stanford was exciting, a real draw for me,” Lee told The Mesothelioma Center at “There was a big void here to fill.”

Stanford Mesothelioma Patients Will Have HIPEC Option

For the first time, patients with peritoneal mesothelioma in the Stanford and San Francisco Bay area will have an academic medical center offering the most up-to-date treatments.

Lee is experienced in the potentially curative combination of cytoreductive surgery and hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, known as HIPEC.

“Bringing a treatment to Stanford that patients once had to travel a long distance to find was enticing,” he said. “Having the ability to change the landscape, with a very talented group of physicians and surgeons here, was a great opportunity.”

The program will involve a multidisciplinary, individualized approach to treatment, bringing surgeons, oncologists and radiologists together at regular tumor board meetings to discuss each patient with various peritoneal diseases.

Stanford’s program also is treating colorectal, pancreatic, appendiceal, ovarian and stomach cancers, all of which often spread through the peritoneal cavity.

Mesothelioma Specialists Key to Long-Term Patient Survival

Peritoneal mesothelioma, which is typically caused by long-ago inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers, is a rare and aggressive disease without a definitive cure. It can metastasize throughout the abdominal cavity.

Few oncologists in the country see it, and don’t thoroughly understand how to treat it. This often leaves patients to settle for standard chemotherapy treatments that have only short-term effectiveness.

Without finding a specialist like Lee, median survival for peritoneal mesothelioma patients is nine to 15 months. Participating in a program like Lee is building at Stanford can mean considerably longer survival. Patients who qualify for a complete cytoreduction and HIPEC combination can live from three to 10 years and beyond.

HIPEC, which immediately follows the cytoreductive surgery, involves a heated, high-concentration chemotherapy solution placed directly into the abdominal cavity that circulates for up to 90 minutes before it is removed.

The intent of HIPEC is to kill any microscopic tumor cells that may have evaded the surgeon. The cytoreduction and HIPEC procedure can last anywhere from six to 14 hours, depending upon the extent of the tumor involvement.

There are a limited number of specialty centers across the country able to optimize the approach. Stanford is now one of them.

“There is potential for a cure, but I try not to use that word [cure] very much. We have a treatment that works, and can work really well for patients,” Lee said. “This is a tough cancer to treat, but we’ve learned how to attain long-term control of it. We have long-term survivors.”

Cancer Is Personal for Dr. Lee

Lee is part of the prestigious Chicago Consensus Working Group, which provides multidisciplinary recommendations and guidelines for the care of patients with different peritoneal surface malignancies, including mesothelioma.

“It’s easy to make a diagnosis, but it’s difficult to offer the best treatment strategy for each patient,” Lee said. “That’s where the experience is important. A lot of these patients have options they should know about.”

The Stanford Cancer Institute has earned the Comprehensive Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute, reflecting its commitment to the highest level of translational research, clinical care and community outreach.

Lee’s program is adding to the excellence.

“Bringing new technology to the operating room here has been exciting. It’s not the status quo,” he said. “We have to learn new techniques. That’s how we’re going to advance treatment for these patients.”

Lee’s relationship with abdominal cancers is personal, which shows in his approach and his passion to help patients. His mother died of pancreatic cancer. So did one of his aunts.

“Cancer has affected me in many ways,” he said. “It’s a big part of me as a person, not just as a profession. Understanding that part of it has helped me tremendously.”

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