Carlos A. Perez, MD, an internationally renowned cancer researcher and professor emeritus of radiation oncology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, died Aug. 21, 2023, in Springfield, Mo., where he had retired. He was 88.
Perez was also the inaugural head of the school’s Department of Radiation Oncology.
In a career that spanned nearly 60 years, Perez made numerous contributions to the field of radiation oncology, especially in the care of patients with gynecologic cancers and tumors of the breast, prostate and lung. He was well-known for emphasizing the human aspect of cancer care, advocating with deep compassion for patients and making a point to understand their emotional and psychological needs.
Perez joined the faculty of Washington University in 1964 and became director of the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology (MIR) Radiation Oncology Center in 1976. He began a training program for radiation therapy technologists in 1966 and led a strong research program that made significant contributions to the advancement of cancer radiation therapy. This included playing key roles in establishing strategies to amplify the effects of radiation treatment with the use of chemotherapy and with hyperthermia — or the application of heat to enhance radiation treatment. In 2001, the Radiation Oncology Center became a new academic department at the School of Medicine, and Perez was named the first head of the Department of Radiation Oncology.
“Dr. Perez was an international leader in the field of radiation oncology,” said Dennis E. Hallahan, MD, the Elizabeth H. and James S. McDonnell III Distinguished Professor and head of the Department of Radiation Oncology. “He advanced the field through clinical investigation and development of new technology to treat cancer.”
A tireless advocate for patients, Perez helped found Washington University’s Cancer Information Center in 1977. One of the first resource facilities of its kind in the U.S., the center provides medical information, resources and emotional support for cancer patients and has served as a model for similar facilities around the world.
“Dr. Perez was a giant in radiation oncology,” said Jeff Michalski, MD, the Carlos A. Perez Distinguished Professor of Radiation Oncology. “He was an outstanding clinician, researcher, mentor and leader. He will be missed by many. His impact will be remembered forever.”
Perez played a key role in establishing the trend toward treating breast tumors with radiation and lumpectomy as an alternative to mastectomy. Perez also led the way in enhancing radiation therapy delivery; he performed pioneering work in brachytherapy, which uses radioactive sources to deliver radiation to tumors, and he was instrumental in establishing the School of Medicine as a world leader in 3D treatment planning. His textbook, “Principles and Practice of Radiation Oncology,” is widely considered the bible of his specialty.
Perez received numerous awards over his long and distinguished career, including the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology’s (ASTRO) prestigious Gold Medal Award in 1992; the American College of Radiology’s Gold Medal Award in 1997; the Círculo de Radioterapeutas Oncólogos Ibero-Latinoamericanos Gold Medal in 2000; the American Radium Society’s Janeway Gold Medal in 2003; and the Marie Curie Medal from the Groupe Européen de Curiethérapie – European Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology Brachytherapy Society in 2012. He is a past president of ASTRO, a former trustee of the American Board of Radiology, and a past member of the National Board of the American Cancer Society.
Perez earned his medical degree from the University of Antioquia School of Medicine in Medellin, Colombia, in 1960. After residency training in Colombia, he came to Washington University School of Medicine for a residency in radiation oncology at MIR. He completed his fellowship at what was then known as MD Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute in Houston, before returning to St. Louis to join the Washington University faculty.
He is survived by his three sons, Carlos S., Bernard and Edward Perez; their mother, his first spouse, Blanca M. Pérez, MD; his brother, Jorge Pérez; his sisters Maria Victoria Uribe and Nubia Perez; four grandchildren; five nieces; and several in-laws, with whom he was close. He was preceded in death by his second wife, Susan Bradshaw Perez.
A memorial service will be held 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2, at Greenlawn Funeral Home North, 3506 North National Ave., in Springfield, Mo.