Written By: Karen Selby, RN,
Last modified: August 21, 2021

Top Mesothelioma Specialists

Paul H. Sugarbaker
Surgical Oncologist

Dr. Paul Sugarbaker is the country’s leading expert on peritoneal mesothelioma. He developed the widely renowned cytoreductive surgery and heated chemotherapy technique that changed the landscape of peritoneal cancer treatment. Many people with peritoneal mesothelioma are alive today because of Sugarbaker’s innovations.

Jacques Fontaine
Thoracic Surgeon

Dr. Jacques Fontaine is the Director of the Mesothelioma Research and Treatment Center at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. He specializes in minimally invasive thoracic surgery including robotic surgery. Fontaine became a pleural mesothelioma specialist while studying under Dr. Sugarbaker at the International Mesothelioma Program at Brigham & Women’s Hospital.

R. Taylor Ripley
Thoracic Surgeon

Dr. R. Taylor Ripley is the director of the Mesothelioma Treatment Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and he was selected by the late Dr. David Sugarbaker to fulfill the role. Ripley specializes in pleural mesothelioma, minimally invasive surgery and robotic surgery.

David L. Bartlett
Surgical Oncologist
Dr. David Bartlett is an innovative surgical oncologist with the Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute in Pittsburgh. He carved out a reputation as a visionary in both research and clinical practice, specializing in treating peritoneal mesothelioma.
Andrea Wolf
Thoracic Surgeon

Dr. Andrea Wolf is a pleural mesothelioma specialist who serves as the director of the Women’s Lung Cancer Program at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. She specializes in surgery for pleural mesothelioma and has expertise in robotic surgery and minimally invasive techniques.

Abraham Lebenthal
Thoracic Surgeon

Dr. Abraham Lebenthal is a respected thoracic surgeon who treats pleural mesothelioma patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston VA Hospital. Lebenthal worked alongside Dr. David Sugarbaker at Brigham and teaches at Harvard Medical School.

W. Charles Conway
Surgical Oncologist

Dr. W. Charles Conway is an expert in peritoneal mesothelioma and the Director of Surgical Oncology at Ridley-Tree Cancer Center in Santa Barbara, California. He specializes in minimally invasive robotic surgery and heated chemotherapy for peritoneal mesothelioma.

Raphael Bueno
Thoracic Surgeon

Dr. Raphael Bueno is the Division of Thoracic Surgery chief at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and director of the renowned International Mesothelioma Program.

What Is a Mesothelioma Specialist?

Specialists are doctors who complete advanced clinical training and have superior education in a particular area of medicine. Mesothelioma specialists work for many years to acquire the knowledge and skills to treat this complex and rare disease. 

The human body is incredibly intricate, and no single person is an expert in all areas of medicine. Specialists exist so patients with a particular issue in one area of the body can receive care from someone who can anticipate and treat every problem in that area. 

Mesothelioma is challenging to diagnose and treat without the specialized experience of doctors and their colleagues who work extensively with these patients. Seeking care from a mesothelioma specialist ensures access to a team of experts and the most advanced therapies.

Tamron Little, mesothelioma survivor and an Asbestos.com expert contributor
Once I found a specialist I made sure I picked his brain about the smoldering questions and concerns I had.
Tamron Little
14-year peritoneal mesothelioma survivor

Watch: Tamron Little describes her personal experience with mesothelioma specialist Dr. Edward Levine after seeing a general oncologist.

Differences Between a Mesothelioma Specialist and General Oncologist

After a mesothelioma diagnosis, patients and their families may have trouble finding an appropriate doctor or treatment center. There are many types of cancer doctors, and knowing how to find the correct specialist can be challenging during such a difficult time. 

Compared to general oncologists, mesothelioma specialists know the intricacies and details of the disease, such as the pleural and peritoneal subtypes. Doctors who specialize in pleural mesothelioma have thoracic oncology or surgical experience dealing with rare cancers in the chest. Similarly, peritoneal specialists are experts in abdominal cancers. 

Mesothelioma specialists tend to work with other experts, such as pathologists or radiologists, in a multidisciplinary team. The benefit to this approach is patients receive care from multiple specialists who all have experience with mesothelioma. General oncologists may never encounter mesothelioma due to its rarity.

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Why Should You Choose a Mesothelioma Specialist?

Early diagnosis and rapid treatment from a specialist offer the best chance to improve a mesothelioma prognosis and extend the time you have with your loved ones. Finding a mesothelioma specialist in your area can be challenging, but the benefits are impossible to ignore.  

Accessing a specialist means opening the door to dozens of potentially life-saving treatments not available from general cancer centers. Patients who receive a mesothelioma diagnosis in the disease’s early stages are more likely to be eligible for surgery and treatment that improves life expectancy. 

Mesothelioma symptoms are vague and often mimic common diseases, especially when cancer is first developing. General oncologists often mistake mesothelioma for less severe illnesses and misdiagnose patients. A delayed mesothelioma diagnosis prolongs the time until appropriate treatment, allowing cancer to progress.

Many of the top mesothelioma doctors in the U.S trained under Dr. David Sugarbaker, a pioneer in mesothelioma treatment. These physicians have established new teams at dedicated centers with highly specialized techniques and procedures, such as robotic surgery, immunotherapy and HIPEC, also known as hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy.

How to Choose a Mesothelioma Specialist:

  • Expertise: Mesothelioma specialists have a long history of diagnosing and treating mesothelioma patients. Their experience with this rare disease is unmatched, which helps them avoid a misdiagnosis and build the best possible treatment plan.
  • Specialized Training: Experts in mesothelioma have years of education and hundreds of hours of practicing oncology, surgery, radiation and other disciplines. Most importantly, they trained under another mesothelioma specialist to develop their expertise.
  • Continuing Education: These mesothelioma experts follow the latest research in treatment innovations and clinical trials. Cancer centers often advertise research trials, and eligible patients have a chance to receive experimental new therapies.
  • Top Mesothelioma Centers: Mesothelioma specialists work at the nation’s top-rated mesothelioma specialty centers with the best resources available. Leading cancer centers also utilize multidisciplinary teams that work with every patient.

Patients who receive treatment from a mesothelioma specialist have the most treatment options and access to expert teams with advanced resources. Mesothelioma specialists are directly responsible for the latest and best therapies that may one day lead to a cure.

Dr. Smart at The Mesothelioma Center helped us set up appointments with the best specialists. The patient advocates are amazing and true to their title.
Danielle W.
daughter of a mesothelioma patient
Mesothelioma specialist speaking with a patient and his wife
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Top mesothelioma cancer centers have cutting-edge technology and multidisciplinary teams with experience treating this rare disease.

Types of Mesothelioma Specialists

Depending on their specialty, mesothelioma doctors may have backgrounds in surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Each type of mesothelioma specialist is an expert in their field but collaborates with others to develop the best treatment. The following types of doctors have the right kind of expertise to become mesothelioma specialists.

Medical Oncologist

medical oncologist is a medical specialist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer with conventional therapies such as chemotherapy. Mesothelioma oncologists are limited in number but work in research centers throughout the country. These doctors meet regularly with other experts in mesothelioma cancer to discuss and coordinate your care.

As part of the diagnosis process, you may see a medical oncologist, especially if you seek a second opinion. With information on your type and stage of cancer, the medical oncologist will tailor a treatment plan to fit your individual needs. They may prescribe chemotherapy and monitor your response.

Thoracic and General Surgeons

thoracic surgeon operates on the lungs, heart, esophagus and diaphragm. Mesothelioma patients are not candidates for major surgery if they have late-stage cancer. A skilled surgeon may help a mesothelioma patient extend their life for several years if cancer has not yet spread.

Patients with peritoneal mesothelioma may have a general surgeon on their treatment team since few experts specialize in peritoneal surgery. These surgeons may specialize in oncology and have extensive training to treat cancer with surgical removal. Mesothelioma cancer is rare, so it is essential to ask about a surgeon’s experience with it. 

Radiation Oncologist and Radiologists

radiation oncologist will contribute to the development of a radiation therapy plan for cancer patients. The goal is to shrink the tumors without hurting the surrounding healthy cells. These specialists, along with dosimetrists, will determine the necessary radiation delivery method and dosage levels. 

Radiologists perform or oversee diagnostic imaging scans, such as X-rays, CT scans, MRIs or PET scans. These images can reveal the presence and location of solid tumors within the body. Imaging tests monitor tumors during treatment to see if they get smaller or larger. 

Pulmonologist

pulmonologist is an expert in lung disease and will be part of the diagnostic and treatment process for pleural mesothelioma patients. Part of their job is identifying abnormalities in the lungs. A pulmonologist can perform procedures with a type of camera called a bronchoscope to help clear the lung or locate suspicious lesions.

Another role of a pulmonologist is working with patients to improve their quality of life, strengthen their lungs and compensate for lost lung function. This specialist also focuses on slowing the decline of lung function and improving oxygenation throughout the body.

Pathologist

Pathologists are the specialists who study biopsied tissue under a microscope to diagnose mesothelioma. However, they are not the ones who obtain the biopsy sample. A general surgeon or specialized pulmonologist usually performs the biopsy procedure. 

Pathologists ultimately determine whether a patient has mesothelioma or another cancer. They also evaluate the cancer stage and type of cells in a patient’s tumor, influencing treatment type and mesothelioma prognosis. 

Palliative Care Specialist

Palliative care specialists help control symptoms in cancer patients and improve their quality of life. These experts understand how to manage cancer-related pain and the side effects of treatment. In some cases, patients begin palliative treatment alongside initial cancer care to help reduce the potential for treatment-related side effects. 

Working with a palliative care specialist helps mesothelioma patients heal from cancer-related injuries and unexpected health events. Lessening the burden of cancer and its treatment on the body helps people live longer, better lives.

Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine

Osteopathic doctors go through the same training, licensing and board certification as medical doctors. However, they also perform additional training in osteopathic manipulative medicine, which focuses on the health of the musculoskeletal system. They take a more holistic approach to health care and promote preventative medicine.

Doctors of osteopathic medicine with expertise in mesothelioma are rare. But patients have worked with them successfully in specialty areas such as pulmonology, surgery and oncology. These specialists may also offer more options for palliative care that can reduce cancer-related pain in bones and muscles. 

Dietician

A dietician specializes in the nutrition requirements and dietary challenges for cancer patients. Mesothelioma patients may encounter many difficulties with their diet during treatment, such as mouth sores from chemotherapy or lack of appetite due to nausea. 

Mesothelioma dieticians undergo advanced education and internships to become qualified beyond the level of a nutritionist. A registered dietician works with a multidisciplinary health team to develop unique diet plans for mesothelioma patients and ensure proper nutrition.

How a Multidisciplinary Team of Mesothelioma Experts Treats Patients

A multidisciplinary team is a group of physicians from different medical backgrounds, for example, surgery, oncology and radiology. These teams come together and use their unique perspectives to discuss diagnosis and treatment options for each patient. An oncologist may not know if surgery is an option until speaking with a mesothelioma surgeon.

The nation’s best mesothelioma cancer centers have created multidisciplinary teams to treat this cancer with a multimodal approach.

Multimodal therapy for mesothelioma combines two or more treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy to treat cancer in multiple ways. Using various methods to manage mesothelioma means fewer ways for cancer to evade medication or return after treatment is complete. 

Who Leads the Team?

Depending on the first course of treatment, the patient’s medical oncologist or surgeon may take the role of the team leader to coordinate care. Who takes the lead in each patient’s case depends on the primary treatment method. The lead specialist will oversee your treatment plan to ensure you receive the absolute best treatment possible.

If the primary treatment modality is chemotherapy or immunotherapy, the team leader will likely be a medical oncologist. However, if a patient is eligible for a significant surgical procedure, the team leader may be a surgeon. The team lead may also depend on which doctor has the most history with the patient or has seen them most recently. 

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What Questions to Ask Each Specialist

If you’re on a multimodal treatment plan, you may have specific questions about each kind of treatment you receive.

In most cases, your oncologist will serve as the primary point of contact on the multidisciplinary team and can answer most of your questions.

However, it is generally best for each specialist to answer questions regarding the treatment they deliver. Consider the following questions to ask of each specialist.

Questions for an Oncologist

  • What are the best chemotherapy drugs for mesothelioma?
  • What side effects might I experience on the chemotherapy drugs I’ve been prescribed?
  • What happens if the cancer comes back? What are my options then?
  • What happens if it works? How often do I need to return for monitoring?

Questions for a Surgeon

  • What should I do to prepare before surgery?
  • How long will my surgery last?
  • What are the risks and side effects of surgery?
  • How long will it take for me to recover from surgery?

Questions for a Radiation Oncologist

  • How does radiation therapy work?
  • How often will I receive treatment?
  • What are the side effects of radiation therapy?
  • How can I care for my skin after treatment?

Questions for a Palliative Care Specialist

  • What else can you help me with aside from pain control?
  • What symptoms can you help me keep in control?
  • Would you recommend any kind of complementary therapy such as physical therapy?
  • What can I do at home to control my pain and symptoms?
Missy Miller of the Mesothelioma Center explaining our Doctor Match program

Watch: The Mesothelioma Center’s Medical Outreach Director Missy Miller explains how we connect people with top mesothelioma doctors.

Asking the right questions can help mesothelioma patients and families find a health care team that will communicate all aspects of treatment. However, patients shouldn’t worry about fitting all their questions into the first visit. Physicians, nurses and other staff members are often able to provide information between visits, as well.

Mesothelioma specialists and their team members are the best sources for details on clinical trials, financial coverage and treatment visits. With the right team beside them, patients should never feel like the information they need is out of reach.

Common Questions About Finding a Mesothelioma Specialist

How do I find a mesothelioma specialist near me?

Our patient advocates or your oncologist can connect you with mesothelioma specialists in your area, including:

Which cancer centers have top mesothelioma specialists?

Patients can find top mesothelioma specialists practicing at:

How do I see a specialist during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Mesothelioma doctors continue to see patients during the COVID-19 pandemic using extensive precautions to keep their patients and staff safe. The Mesothelioma Center’s patient advocates can help you develop a plan to stay protected during a visit with your doctor.


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