Prior to 2019, there were few Veterans Affairs hospitals with renowned mesothelioma programs.
Fortunately, there’s now another option: the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, Texas.
The center, which is associated with Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, now offers comprehensive care to veterans who have the rare cancer known as mesothelioma. Three doctors affiliated with the center discussed the program on the most recent “Meet the Mesothelioma Experts” podcast series hosted by the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation.
Dr. Taylor Ripley is a thoracic surgeon at Baylor St. Luke’s with a specialty in mesothelioma. He will oversee the VA program while Dr. Lorraine Cornwell is the section head of thoracic surgery at the VA center. Dr. Eugene Choi, a surgical oncologist with Baylor St. Luke’s, will head peritoneal mesothelioma treatment at the VA center.
Why the Houston VA Is Needed
There is a necessity for more mesothelioma programs at VA hospitals. There are between 3,000 and 3,300 new mesothelioma cases in the United States each year. One-third of mesothelioma patients are veterans, which makes former military members the largest demographic with this aggressive disease.
Veterans can use their VA health care at any VA hospital. Traveling to a VA hospital with an on-staff mesothelioma specialist means receiving care from a doctor with a vast amount of experience.
The primary VA mesothelioma programs were in Boston and Los Angeles, which left many veterans in the southern part of the United States without closer-to-home options. Having an option in Texas could attract veterans to this VA center instead of traveling across the country for quality care. If a veteran gets a referral from their local VA to one of the VA hospitals with mesothelioma specialists, then the VA will cover the cost of travel.
“We hope the program now encompassing more detailed research and input … will attract more patients, even from a potentially nationwide referral board,” Dr. Cornwell said. She later added, “This disease is one that’s rare enough and complicated enough where we do see people traveling some distance. A number of our veterans come from other states.”
Mesothelioma Treatment at the Houston VA
Dr. Cornwell, who called herself a “broad-based surgeon” has worked at this VA center for 10 years. She called herself “very familiar with how the VA works” and helped Dr. Ripley and Dr. Choi explain how the VA mesothelioma program works, including which treatments are available to veterans.
“The first step before any standard treatment is a full evaluation,” Dr. Ripley said. “A true evaluation takes about two weeks to get all the appropriate testing.
“Once we have all that information, we see the patient again … and try to lay out a treatment plan moving forward.”
Dr. Cornwell mentioned pleurectomy with decortication as the primary surgery for pleural mesothelioma patients. Dr. Choi discussed cytoreduction with heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy for treating peritoneal mesothelioma.
He said that until the VA hospital has the necessary equipment for peritoneal mesothelioma treatment, some patients could receive treatment at Baylor St. Luke’s. Considering the rarity of peritoneal mesothelioma, a VA center having a dedicated surgeon and team for the disease is promising for veterans with this type of the cancer.
“There are some vet patients whom we’ve identified as having peritoneal mesothelioma,” he said.
If you’re a veteran with any type of mesothelioma and have yet to receive treatment, contact us at Mesothelioma Guide. We have a Navy veteran on staff to help connect patients with specialists. Email our Veterans Service Representative, Carl Jewett, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Mesothelioma Program at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston, Texas. Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. Retrieved from: https://www.curemeso.org/get-involved/attend-conferences-and-events/meet-the-mesothelioma-experts-podcast-broadcast-series/mesothelioma-program-at-veterans-affairs-medical-center-in-houston-texas/. Accessed: 11/29/19.
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