Dr. Elliot Wakeam

Thoracic Surgeon at Michigan Medicine

Dr. Elliot Wakeam is a thoracic surgeon specializing in pleural mesothelioma. He believes in SMART for pleural mesothelioma and established a SMART protocol at Michigan Medicine, which is affiliated with the University of Michigan medical program.

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Pleural Mesothelioma

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Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan

1500 E. Medical Center Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48109

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More About Mesothelioma Specialist Dr. Elliot Wakeam

Dr. Wakeam, who has practiced medicine for more than a decade, joined the staff at Michigan Medicine in November 2019. He is one of the top thoracic surgeons in the United States and the primary surgeon for pleural mesothelioma at the institution.

“We didn’t really have anyone here who wanted to champion surgery for mesothelioma and mesothelioma trials until I got here,” he said.

In 2019, Dr. Wakeam completed the thoracic surgery and lung transplant fellowship programs at Toronto General Hospital and Princess Margaret Cancer Center. At these two locations, he became a mesothelioma expert under the tutelage of two thoracic surgeons.

“The main mesothelioma surgeon in our hospital was Marc de Perrot,” he said. “Then I had Shaf Keshavjee. Those were my two mentors when it came to learning and understanding mesothelioma.”

Dr. Wakeam said the team in Toronto saw around 100 cases of pleural mesothelioma per year. He explicitly saw 40 or 50 each year, and he brings that experience to Michigan Medicine.

Dr. Wakeam promotes the use of SMART for mesothelioma, which he learned in Toronto. SMART is the acronym for “surgery for mesothelioma after radiation therapy.” Dr. Wakeam believes this treatment approach is the key to improving survival times.

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Medical Degrees and Residencies

    • Medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, 2010
    • Masters degree from Harvard Medical School, Public Health, 2014
    • Residency at the University of Toronto, General Surgery, 2017
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Certifications and Memberships

    • Certification in General Surgery from the American Board of Surgery
    • Certification in General Surgery from the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada
    • Membership in the American Association of Thoracic Surgery, American College of Surgeons, Canadian Association of Thoracic Surgery and International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation

Get Connected to Dr. Elliot Wakeam

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Dr. Wakeam is the primary mesothelioma surgeon at Michigan Medicine. He combines experience, innovation and compassion for his patients. Dr. Wakeam learned from some of the best surgeons in North America, and his goal is to extend people’s lives with radiation therapy and surgery.

Why Choose Dr. Wakeam?

  • Use of SMART for pleural mesothelioma
  • Emotional support provided to patients
  • Open to surgery on biphasic and sarcomatoid patients


Bringing SMART for Mesothelioma to Michigan Medicine

Dr. Wakeam is not the first mesothelioma specialist to advocate for SMART. For years, Dr. Perrot and others at Princess Margaret Cancer Center used SMART for mesothelioma.

At the institution, SMART led to a median survival of 51 months for patients with the epithelioid cell type. Around 72% of them survived for at least three years, which is exceptional. Most studies report an average survival time for pleural mesothelioma of around one year.

The protocol for SMART includes intensity‑modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), followed by invasive surgery. The radiation therapy addresses the tumors on “the margins,” as Dr. Wakeam explained. Mesothelioma spreads by cells growing and duplicating, which leads to tumors separated from the bulk of the disease.

Dr. Wakeam said he and his team can use either extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) surgery or pleurectomy with decortication (P/D) surgery with the radiation therapy. EPP removes the affected lung while P/D spares the lung.

Dr. Wakeam is also open to using SMART on sarcomatoid and biphasic mesothelioma patients, in addition to the epithelioid cell classification.

Steps of SMART for Mesothelioma at Michigan Medicine

Dr. Wakeam has a compact SMART protocol. It does not require much of the patients’ time. The four steps of SMART for mesothelioma at Michigan Medicine are:


Five days of radiation therapy


Five days off from any treatment


Pleural mesothelioma surgery


Follow‑up radiation or chemotherapy if needed

Putting the Patient First

Not all mesothelioma patients are candidates for SMART. Treating this disease does not involve a “one‑size‑fits‑all” approach. Dr. Wakeam’s job involves providing emotional support during a trying time.

“There are multiple factors. Number one is resectability,” Dr. Wakeam said. “Are they going to benefit from surgery? Are there distant diseases? Is the disease growing into the heart or abdomen?”

There are many other questions involved in the SMART criteria. For patients who cannot receive this treatment approach, Dr. Wakeam focuses on “treatments that we know prolong life.” He also prioritizes pain‑relief therapies for patient comfort.

“That’s totally critical,” he said. “Thoracic surgery is a palliative care specialty. I fully believe that. … Quality of life is top of mind with everything we do. We have a really important role to play when it comes to making people feel as good as they can for as long as they can.”

If you wish to speak with Dr. Wakeam, we can help you set up an appointment. Our patient advocates can pinpoint which doctor or cancer center is the best fit for you and your diagnosis. Get started today with our free Doctor Match program and you could be the next patient in Dr. Wakeam’s SMART treatment protocol.

Sources & Author

    1. Elliot Wakeam MD. Michigan Medicine. Retrieved from: https://www.uofmhealth.org/profile/33341/elliot-wakeam-md. Accessed: 04/28/2020.
    2. Radiation before surgery more than doubles mesothelioma survival: UHN study. University Health Network. Retrieved from: https://www.uhn.ca/corporate/News/PressReleases/Pages/radiation_before_-surgery_doubles_mesothelioma_survival.aspx. Accessed: 04/28/2020.
    3. Accelerated hemithoracic radiation followed by extrapleural pneumonectomy for malignant pleural mesothelioma. Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. Retrieved from: https://www.jtcvs.org/article/S0022-5223%2815%2901986-8/abstract. Accessed: 04/28/2020.
    4. Life Expectancy in Pleural and Peritoneal Mesothelioma. Lung Cancer International. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5292397/. Accessed: 04/28/2020.
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About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is the content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.