If you’re looking for a peritoneal mesothelioma specialist, and are experiencing frustration by the limited amount of doctors who treat the cancer, you’re not alone. Finding a peritoneal mesothelioma (PM) specialist is a challenging endeavor because only a handful of doctors in the U.S. have experience with the rare cancer.
Several hundred PM cases are diagnosed in the U.S. every year, and the low incidence places a small demand on the medical industry for specialists. Breast, prostate and skin cancer specialists are far more common because the incidence of these cancers is drastically higher than peritoneal mesothelioma.
Thankfully, PM specialists are located throughout the nation, and patients facing financial issues may be eligible for travel grants. Some of the PM specialists work remotely with doctors in other states, making their expertise available to people who cannot travel long distances. And for people who need assistance, patient advocates and oncology social workers are available to help people connect with a specialist.
Paul Sugarbaker, M.D.: Widely considered one of the world’s leading specialists on peritoneal mesothelioma, Dr. Paul Sugarbaker is the medical director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Malignancies at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. Sugarbaker was an early pioneer of the treatment that became the most effective therapy for peritoneal mesothelioma: Surgery combined with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC), also known as heated chemotherapy.
In addition to performing countless surgeries on peritoneal mesothelioma patients, Sugarbaker is a researcher and educator who has published hundreds of pieces of medical literature and travels the globe educating other physicians. Few doctors have studied peritoneal mesothelioma as long as Sugarbaker has, making him one of the most sought-after specialists on peritoneal mesothelioma.
James F. Pingpank, Jr., M.D.: An active researcher and surgeon, Dr. James Pingpank is known for his compassionate bedside manner and his clinical research. He treats peritoneal mesothelioma patients at the University of Pittsburg Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburg, Pa. Dr. Pingpank was part of the research team that reported an overall survival of 92 months among 49 peritoneal mesothelioma patients treated with surgery and HIPEC.
In recent years, his research has investigated the factors that affect early cancer recurrence. One of Dr. Pingpank’s focuses in treatment is extending progression-free survival — the amount of time after treatment before the cancer returns or spreads. Pingpank is working hard to understand why some mesothelioma patients, who already have longer overall survival, also experience longer progression-free survival. Since 2003, he’s published six reports on the treatment and survival of peritoneal mesothelioma patients, two of which were published earlier this year.
James Ohr, D.O.: With his medical roots in osteopathic medicine, Dr. James Ohr brings a unique educational and experiential medical background to the table when he works with peritoneal mesothelioma patients.
Dr. Ohr is board-certified in internal medicine, medical oncology and hematology, and peritoneal and gastrointestinal cancers are among his clinical focus at Hillman Cancer Center. Peritoneal mesothelioma patients who don’t qualify for surgery can work with Dr. Ohr to manage the cancer’s progression with other therapies.
W. Charles Conway, M.D.: Surgical oncologist Charles Conway is working toward making the Ochsner Cancer Institute in New Orleans a mesothelioma specialty center to serve the entire Gulf South Region. Dr. Conway handles all peritoneal cases, while thoracic surgeon Rodney Landreneau treats pleural mesothelioma. “There was an unmet need here for mesothelioma expertise,” Conway told Asbestos.com. “It’s a cancer where you need to find a specialist.”
Dr. Conway has worked with a wide range of abdominal cancers, doing complex surgeries involving the pancreas, liver, bowel, and esophagus. In 2013, he became the first surgeon to perform a total pancreaticoduodenectomy (Whipple Procedure) in Louisiana. With peritoneal patients, he has had great success with cytoreductive surgery and hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC).
Edward Levine M.D.: As chief of surgical oncology and director of the Wake Forest Comprehensive Cancer Center in North Carolina, Dr. Edward Levine has more comprehensive oncology experience than most peritoneal mesothelioma specialists. He’s considered an international expert on the combined treatment of surgery and heated chemotherapy for peritoneal cancers.
As one of the nation’s leading specialists on peritoneal mesothelioma, Dr. Levine works with doctors throughout the country to treat peritoneal mesothelioma patients from coast to coast. Since it isn’t easy to find a peritoneal mesothelioma specialist in every state, Dr. Levine can offer his expertise remotely through a referral relationship with doctors in 30 states.
Richard Berri, M.D.: Treating peritoneal mesothelioma with surgery and heated chemotherapy is among Dr. Richard Berri’s specialties at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit, Mich. Dr. Berri is the director of surgical oncology at the Van Elslander Cancer Center, and is known for his leadership and dedication to top-notch clinical care.
A believer in multidisciplinary medicine, Dr. Berri thinks every patient benefits when doctors from multiple specialties disciplines work together to provide individualized treatment that is unique to the patient. Berri is known for his surgical skill and for his eagerness to collaborate with other specialists to deliver optimal care to his patients.
Brian Loggie, M.D.: As one of the early researchers who helped develop the HIPEC technique, Dr. Brian Loggie has treated peritoneal mesothelioma patients for two decades. Currently, he serves as the director of the Cancer Biology Program and the chief of Division of Surgical Oncology at Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Neb.
A humanitarian at heart, Dr. Loggie volunteered his expertise in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake that left the area devastated and in deep need of medical specialists. Loggie applies that same kindness to his peritoneal mesothelioma patients in Omaha.
Joel Baumgartner, M.D.: Peritoneal mesothelioma patients on the West Coast can turn to the HIPEC program at Moores Cancer Center in San Diego, Calif., to work with HIPEC specialist Dr. Joel Baumgartner. He trained for two years at one of the world’s highest volume HIPEC centers, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Mesothelioma Specialty Care Center, where he gained invaluable experience treating mesothelioma cases.
In 2012, Dr. Baumgartner moved to San Diego to contribute to the HIPEC team at Moores Cancer Center. He believes in the importance of working with doctors who are familiar with peritoneal mesothelioma. Baumgartner says, “It’s a unique procedure with a very rare cancer. It’s really important for a patient to find the right treatment center, and a surgeon who has experience with this type of malignancy.”
Ryan Holbrook, M.D.: Based in Spokane, Wash., Dr. Ryan Holbrook is a surgical oncologist who specializes in abdominal cancers like peritoneal mesothelioma. He’s performed the combined treatment of surgery and heated chemotherapy more than 150 times on people with mesothelioma and other cancers since 1996. His location in East Washington is a boon to PM patients in the Northwest, because he’s the only HIPEC specialist in that area.
Peritoneal mesothelioma may be a rare cancer, but resources are available to patients to help them access the specialists and treatments they need to face this disease.
Prior to innovative treatments like heated chemotherapy, the prognosis for PM patients was most often grim. Thanks to medical advancements and dedicated research from these specialists, the survival rate for PM patients is improving. Historically, the median survival has fluctuated between six to 12 months, but some patients who undergo surgery and heated chemotherapy are living beyond three and five years. Would you consider heated chemotherapy if your oncologist recommended the treatment? Join the conversation with other mesothelioma patients on Facebook.