Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, which includes the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, has the most acclaimed pleural mesothelioma program in the world.

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About Brigham and Women’s Hospital

The International Mesothelioma Program (IMP) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital has a dedicated staff of specialists that includes medical oncologists, thoracic surgeons, radiation oncologists, pathologists, nurses and therapists — all dedicated to the same cause. It combines cutting-edge treatments with the latest research, making it one of the top mesothelioma treatment centers in the world.

Originally led by mesothelioma treatment pioneer Dr. David Sugarbaker, the IMP was founded in 2002 in response to a rising incidence rate of this rare and aggressive cancer.

The program serves more than 200 patients annually, some of whom come from across the county and from around the world, believing there is no better place to be treated.

The multidisciplinary team uses a collaborative approach, state-of-the-art technology and a caring environment to operate a program that others try to emulate.

Setting Standards for Other Specialty Centers

Today’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) is the result of a 1980 merger of three prestigious teaching hospitals, all affiliated with Harvard University Medical School.

With locations throughout the Boston area, BWH serves an estimated 46,000 patients each year.

U.S. News & World Report has listed BWH on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Hospitals for 25 consecutive years. The publication ranked the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute fourth among America’s Top Cancer Centers for 2018-19.

The IMP has maintained its No. 1 status for more than a decade by meshing its scientists, clinicians and support staff into the world’s premier center.

The mission statement includes treatment, research and support of patients and families.

The IMP’s goals include:
  • Personalizing care to meet unique needs for every patient.
  • Pioneering the latest, most advanced therapies.
  • Improve screening, diagnostics and treatment.
  • Training additional specialists.
  • Assisting scientists who study the biological mechanisms of mesothelioma.
  • Establishing assessment centers in areas with high mesothelioma incidence rates.
  • Identifying international centers for potential research collaborations.

With patients, a supportive and compassionate environment is paramount.

Great Leadership Continues

When Sugarbaker left the program in 2014, it never wavered and has continued building on the same high standards, raising its level even more.

“It’s even better now,” said Dr. Raphael Bueno, who replaced Sugarbaker as chief of thoracic surgery. “Patients understand, it’s the whole program. The great patient care is still here. There is much more optimism about the future of care than ever before. There are better drugs and better ones coming down the line.”

Sugarbaker was the one who pioneered the extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery, extending the lives of hundreds of patients. It was under his watch that survival times doubled and then tripled.

He left the program in good hands. Bueno, Dr. Abraham Lebenthal and Dr. Scott Swanson handle most of the aggressive surgeries today.

Team Approach to Treatment Is Key

The treatment team embraces the multimodal approach, offering multiple options and combination therapies. They may include surgery, immunotherapy, chemotherapy and radiation.

They also include supportive services, rehabilitation and post-acute care that improves quality of life while extending survival. Although there is no cure for pleural mesothelioma, there is a go-for-broke, curative approach toward each patient.

Beyond treatment advances, the IMP is a leader in research, too, building off the example set by years of research within the BWH.

The hospital has more than 150 staff researchers and is a top recipient annually of National Institute of Health research grants.

Clinical Trials Move the Bar

Part of the research includes clinical trials, including many involving mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

One of the current clinical trials recruiting patients at Dana-Farber involves a phase II study with an immunotherapy drug combination of Imfinzi (durvalumab) and tremelimumab.

The study is designed for mesothelioma patients with inoperable disease that has progressed after at least one treatment of chemotherapy.

Imfinzi works by blocking a protein often produced by cancer cells to stop the immune system from attacking. Tremelimumab blocks an immune system receptor that suppresses an immune attack.

Researchers believe the combination will work for mesothelioma, although neither drug has been approved by the FDA for use with this cancer.

Another recently opened clinical trial at Dana-Farber is aimed at producing a more effective way to determine the stage of disease and provide a more accurate diagnosis for patients.

An improved staging method is needed to more accurately determine whether a patient can benefit from aggressive surgery before it begins. Too often, surgery today is done on patients whose disease progression was further than expected.