Penn Medicine: University of Pennsylvania Health System

230 W. Washington Square, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106

Penn Medicine is the health network for the University of Pennsylvania. The university’s health system includes a top-ranked cancer center along with ongoing clinical trials and specialists to treat mesothelioma of the lung cavity.

Penn Medicine: University of Pennsylvania Health System
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Pleural Mesothelioma

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Abramson Cancer Center

230 W. Washington Square

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Dr. Keith Cengel

Dr. Sunil Singhal

Dr. Christine Ciunci


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More About Mesothelioma Treatment at University of Pennsylvania Health System

Penn Medicine is also referred to as the University of Pennsylvania Health System. The primary area of focus for mesothelioma at University of Pennsylvania Health System is pleural mesothelioma.

This type of mesothelioma starts in the narrow lining of the lung cavity. The proximity of this lining to the lungs and chest wall leads to tumors spreading into the chest wall or onto the lungs. If they reach the lungs, doctors may need to remove one of the organs during mesothelioma surgery.

Penn Medicine’s health network features Abramson Cancer Center, located in downtown Philadelphia. Abramson Cancer Center is one of two cancer hospitals in Philadelphia with mesothelioma specialists and personalized treatment offered to patients. The other is Fox Chase Cancer Center, an affiliate of Temple University.

Abramson Cancer Center’s top mesothelioma specialist is Dr. Keith Cengel. He is the Executive Director of the Penn Medicine Mesothelioma and Pleural Diseases Program. Dr. Cengel is a radiation oncologist and professor of radiation oncology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Cengel is also the Director of the Photodynamic Radiation Program, which is one of the leading novel cancer therapies championed by Abramson Cancer Center.

Dr. Sunil Singhal is the leading thoracic surgeon at Penn Medicine. His titles are Chief of the Division of Thoracic Surgery and Vice Chair of Translational Research for the Department of Surgery. He’s also Director of the Center for Precision Surgery.

Dr. Christine Ciunci is the primary medical oncologist for mesothelioma cases. Her clinical expertise is laser-focused on mesothelioma and lung cancer, which is evidence she specializes in these two diseases.

Dr. Corey Langer is the Director of Medical Oncology at Penn Medicine. He also works in the Mesothelioma and Pleural Disease Program.

Penn Medicine is affiliated with Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Experienced Mesothelioma Specialists

    • Dr. Keith Cengel, Executive Director of Penn Medicine Mesothelioma and Pleural Disease Program
    • Dr. Sunil Singhal, Chief of the Division of Thoracic Surgery
    • Dr. Christine Ciunci, Section Chief of Hematology Oncology
    • Dr. Corey Langer, Director of Thoracic Oncology
    • Dr. John Kucharczuk, Director of the Integrated Thoracic Oncology Program and Thoracic Oncology Network
    • Dr. Taine Pechet, Chief of Surgery at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center
    • Dr. Andrew Haas, principal investigator in a mesothelioma CAR T-cell therapy study
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    • Abramson Cancer Center
    • University of Pennsylvania Medical Center
    • Pennsylvania Hospital
    • Princeton Health
    • Hospitals of the University of Pennsylvania
    • Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
    • Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine (Roberts Proton Therapy Center)
    • Penn Presbyterian Medical Center
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Treatment Specialties

    • Extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery
    • Radical or extended pleurectomy/decortication surgery
    • Chemotherapy
    • Immunotherapy
    • Indwelling pleural catheter to drain fluid
    • Pleural sclerosis to remove pleural space
    • Thoracentesis to drain fluid from the pleura
    • Radiation therapy
    • Proton radiation therapy
    • Volumetric-modulated arc therapy for Mesothelioma (VMAT)
    • Photodynamic therapy
    • Brachytherapy
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Get Connected to Abramson Cancer Center

Abramson Cancer Center, part of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, has one of the largest mesothelioma treatment teams in the world. The Mesothelioma and Pleural Diseases Program allows for specialized care on a patient-by-patient basis, with oversight from thoracic surgeons, radiation oncologists and medical oncologists.

Why Choose Abramson Cancer Center?

  • Program dedicated to mesothelioma and other pleural diseases
  • Clinical trials featuring novel treatments like CAR T-cell therapy
  • Pioneered use of photodynamic therapy for mesothelioma

We value your privacy and will never sell or rent your personal information to any third party.

Treatment Plan by Mesothelioma Stage at Abramson Cancer Center

Abramson Cancer Center has one of the widest ranges of mesothelioma treatment of any cancer center in the country. Both surgeries for pleural mesothelioma are available, along with chemotherapy and radiation. Setting the Penn Medicine cancer center apart from others is the novel therapies offered through clinical trials, along with the affiliate proton radiation center.

Penn Medicine was listed in the 2023-2024 U.S. News & World Report Honor Roll. The health network ranked 6th in general cancer treatment and 5th in lung cancer surgery, which encompasses pleural mesothelioma.

The Abramson Cancer Center website breaks down treatment for mesothelioma by each of the four stages:

  • Stage 1 mesothelioma – Surgery (either lung-removal extrapleural pneumonectomy or lung-sparing pleurectomy with decortication) is the primary treatment used at Penn Medicine. Patients may enroll in clinical trials involving surgery paired with other therapies, such as immunotherapy.
  • Stage 2 mesothelioma – Penn Medicine doctors may recommend surgery but usually in combination with chemotherapy or radiation, which are the two main treatments used in these cases.
  • Stage 3 mesothelioma – The focus shifts to pain relief and improving quality of life, which falls within palliative care for mesothelioma. Chemotherapy and radiation are still likely during stage 3. Clinical trials for new therapies are still an option.
  • Stage 4 mesothelioma – Patient comfort is the primary focus, which means chemotherapy and radiation are no longer used. Pain medication and hospice care are discussed with the patient and their loved ones.

Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine (Roberts Proton Therapy Center)

The University of Pennsylvania Health System features specialized treatment and has an abundance of resources for cancer therapy. An example is the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine. This center includes the Roberts Proton Therapy Center, which features a new and more effective type of radiation called proton radiation therapy.

There are only a few proton radiation centers for mesothelioma. The treatment sends a tight, controlled radiation beam at the tumors while causing minimal harm to nearby healthy tissue. This method better protects the lungs, which can be impacted during traditional radiation therapy.

Clinical Trials at Abramson Cancer Center

Penn Medicine features four mesothelioma clinical trials recruiting patients and another soon to be open for recruitment. The cancer center has helped complete many studies, including:

  • A monoclonal antibody immunotherapy study for pleural mesothelioma
  • The immunotherapy drug Keytruda, the brand name for pembrolizumab, with image-guided surgery
  • A gene therapy trial for mesothelioma, leading to an 87% response rate from 40 enrolled patients

Photodynamic Therapy for Mesothelioma at Abramson Cancer Center

One of the novel therapies featured for mesothelioma at Abramson Cancer Center is photodynamic therapy. Dr. Joseph Friedberg, who worked at Abramson Cancer Center and now is at Fox Chase Cancer Center, pioneered photodynamic therapy for mesothelioma.

University of Pennsylvania Health System is hosting a phase 2 trial featuring intraoperative photodynamic therapy. Patients in the study undergo extended/radical pleurectomy with decortication surgery. Half add intraoperative photodynamic therapy during the operation.

The trial is recruiting up to 102 participants. It began enrolling in 2014 but paused due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York, is the collaborating cancer hospital with Penn Medicine on this clinical trial.

CAR T-Cell Therapy for Mesothelioma at Abramson Cancer Center

Another novel therapy staple at Penn Medicine is CAR T-cell treatment. CAR T cells are an adoptive cell therapy, which is a type of targeted immunotherapy. Doctors remove T cells and enhance them by adding a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) to direct the T cells toward cancer cells expressing a specific antigen (protein).

Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center featured a CAR T-cell study that led to 10-year survival for a pair of leukemia patients. One of them, Doug Olson, remains cancer-free nearly 12 years since receiving the infusion of CAR T cells. Dr. Carl June pioneered this novel cell and gene therapy for blood cancers like leukemia. His work led to doctors calling Doug Olson “cured” of his leukemia.

Abramson Cancer Center has an ongoing phase 1 CAR T-cell trial for mesothelioma. The target antigen for CAR T cells against mesothelioma is mesothelin. This protein is highly expressed on mutated mesothelial cells, which are the cells of the lung lining that can turn into mesothelioma.

Dr. Andrew Haas is the principal investigator of this study.

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Hospital Ranking

    • Listed in the U.S. News & World Report 2023-2024 Hospitals Honor Roll
    • Ranked 1st in Pennsylvania
    • Ranked 6th for cancer treatment in general
    • Ranked 5th for lung cancer surgery (pleural mesothelioma)
    • Ranked 11th for gastrointestinal cancer surgery (peritoneal mesothelioma)

Abramson Cancer Center Support Services for Mesothelioma

Abramson Cancer Center offers support services to patients. These services include:

  • Patient and family member counseling
  • Home care services
  • Hospice care
  • Nutrition guidance
  • Palliative care and pain management
  • Support groups
  • Stress management

Each of these services is important for people affected by mesothelioma. Many patients need palliative care and pain management for their mesothelioma. The cancer spreads quickly and brings uncomfortable side effects, including chest pain and trouble breathing.

Pain management and palliative care options include draining fluid from near the lungs, along with medication. An indwelling pleural catheter is used at Abramson Cancer Center to drain fluid from the pleural lining. Another fluid-draining procedure is a thoracentesis. Patients may undergo pleural sclerosis, which is similar to a pleurodesis, or removal of the pleural lining to prevent recurrent fluid buildup in the area.

How to Visit Abramson Cancer Center for Your Mesothelioma

There are quite a few cancer centers along the eastern coast, and specifically in the northeast region of the United States. Abramson Cancer Center stands out among the pack.

Thanks to affiliations with Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, the Roberts Proton Therapy Center, and other facilities, Abramson Cancer Center is one of the top-ranked mesothelioma hospitals available to patients.

The focus on clinical trials and novel therapies means even late-stage patients have options. The thoracic surgery and oncology staff are experienced in providing surgery, chemotherapy and radiation to early stage cases.

If this cancer center sounds like a good fit for your treatment needs, we can help you connect with the intake staff. Contact our lead patient advocate, registered nurse Karen Ritter, by email at karen@mesotheliomaguide.com or get a complete list of cancer centers in our free Mesothelioma Guide.

Sources & Author

  1. Keith Cengel, MD, PhD. Abramson Cancer Center. Retrieved from: https://www.pennmedicine.org/providers/profile/keith-cengel. Accessed: 03/15/2022.
  2. Sunil Singhal, MD. Abramson Cancer Center. Retrieved from: https://www.pennmedicine.org/providers/profile/sunil-singhal. Accessed: 03/15/2022.
  3. Christine A. Ciunci, MD, MSCE. Abramson Cancer Center. Retrieved from: https://www.pennmedicine.org/providers/profile/christine-ciunci. Accessed: 03/15/2022.
  4. Corey J. Langer, MD. Abramson Cancer Center. Retrieved from: https://www.pennmedicine.org/providers/profile/corey-langer. Accessed: 03/15/2022.
  5. John C. Kucharczuk, MD. Abramson Cancer Center. Retrieved from: https://www.pennmedicine.org/providers/profile/john-kucharczuk. Accessed: 03/15/2022.
  6. Taine T.V. Pechet, MD. Abramson Cancer Center. Retrieved from: https://www.pennmedicine.org/providers/profile/taine-pechet. Accessed: 03/15/2022.
  7. Mesothelioma or Pleural Disease Treatment. Abramson Cancer Center. Retrieved from: https://www.pennmedicine.org/cancer/types-of-cancer/mesothelioma/mesothelioma-treatment. Accessed: 03/15/2022.
  8. Phase II Trial of Radical Pleurectomy With or Without Intraoperative PDT for Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma (MPM-PDT). Clinicaltrials.gov. Retrieved from: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02153229. Accessed: 03/15/2022. 
  9. Cancer Support Services. Abramson Cancer Center. Retrieved from: pennmedicine.org/cancer/types-of-cancer/mesothelioma/cancer-support-services. Accessed: 03/15/2022.
  10. Study of Penn Patients with Decade-Long Leukemia Remissions after CAR T Cell Therapy Reveals New Details About Persistence of Personalized “Living Drug” Cells. Abramson Cancer Center. Retrieved from: https://www.pennmedicine.org/news/news-releases/2022/february/study-of-penn-patients-with-decade-long-leukemia-remissions-after-car-t-cell-therapy. Accessed: 03/15/2022.
  11. Thoracic Oncology Translational Center of Excellence-Lung Cancer TCE. Abramson Cancer Center. Retrieved from: https://www.pennmedicine.org/cancer/cancer-research/translating-research-to-practice/lung-cancer-tce. Accessed: 11/30/2022.
  12. Hospitals of the University of Pennsylvania-Penn Presbyterian. U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved from: https://health.usnews.com/best-hospitals/area/pa/hospital-of-the-university-of-pennsylvania-6231900. Accessed: 03/15/2022.
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About the Writer, Karen Ritter, RN BSN

Karen Ritter, a registered nurse, is the lead patient advocate for Mesothelioma Guide. She has a deep passion for patient care, which includes helping patients and their families search for treatment options at the top mesothelioma cancer centers. She finds the balance between encouraging patients to receive the best treatment possible while enjoying their time with loved ones and friends. Karen is a valuable asset for patients due to her knowledge of mesothelioma, compassion for the victims of this disease and dedication to guiding patients through their treatment journey.