During a career that spanned 47 years, Carlos A. Perez, M.D., made an indelible mark on the field of radiation oncology. He helped set the norms for treating cancer of the cervix, prostate and breast and treated patients from around the world who traveled to St. Louis to seek his expertise.
He is known as a walking encyclopedia in his field, and his book, Principles and Practice of Radiation Oncology, is called “the bible” of his specialty.
Dr. Perez, now professor emeritus and former chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology, is probably best known for his influential research exploring the most effective therapies for several types of cancer.
Working with Marvin Carmel, M.D., Dr. Perez helped improve standard therapies for cervical cancer. The two conducted some of the first studies comparing surgical and radiation approaches to this disease.
Dr. Perez conducted investigations of lung cancer that defined best radiation doses that should be used and how much tissue should be exposed for the maximum benefit.
His research on breast cancer helped establish optimal protocols for combining radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery to fight the disease. He played an important role in the trend toward treating breast tumors with radiation and lumpectomy as an alternative to mastectomy.
Dr. Perez led the way in enhancing radiation therapy delivery. He researched brachytherapy, a technique that implants radioactive pellets into tumors, and was instrumental in making Washington University a world leader in developing 3-D treatment planning.
With this computer-based technology, physicians can view 3-D color images of a patient’s tumor and the surrounding organs. Physicians use the images to tailor radiation delivery to target the tumor more precisely while sparing normal tissues.
In addition to his research and clinical achievements, Dr. Perez is known for his teaching and for his leadership in the fight against cancer.
To encourage younger students to enter oncology, Dr. Perez’s division started a summer oncology program in the mid-1970s for medical students finishing their first year.
He also had a direct impact on cancer treatment across the St. Louis area by training many radiation oncologists and supporting a training program for radiation technologists who wanted to specialize in oncology.
Throughout his career, Dr. Perez was a strong advocate of patient education. In 1977, he founded the Cancer Information Center at Washington University Medical Center to give cancer patients guidance and knowledge about their disease.
The center provides medical information and emotional support for cancer patients, their families and friends. It was the first resource center of its kind and has served as a model for similar facilities around the world.
Dr. Perez, who was raised in the South American city of Medellin, Colombia, attributes his interest in medicine to his family; two of his uncles and three of his great-uncles were physicians.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1952 from the Liceo Universidad de Antioquia in Medellin and his medical degree in 1960 from the Universidad de Antioquia Medical School, also in Medellin.
He completed a radiology residency at Washington University’s Mallinckrodt Institute and a radiation therapy fellowship at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Dr. Perez joined the Washington University faculty in 1964 as an instructor and became a professor in 1972. He was named director of the Radiation Oncology Center in 1976 and head of the Department of Radiation Oncology in 2001. He served as department head until his retirement in 2004.
A highly productive researcher and a prolific writer, he published more than 350 scientific articles and contributed to more than 43 textbooks.
Dr. Perez was a trustee of the American Board of Radiology for many years and served as president of the American Society of Therapeutic Radiation Oncology (ASTRO).
He has received numerous awards, including the ASTRO Gold Medal, the American College of Radiology Gold Medal and the American College of Surgeons’ National Cancer Fighter Award.
Dr. Perez is married to Susie Bradshaw Perez and has three children — Carlos S., Bernardo and Edward — and three grandchildren.