Carlos Arteaga, M.D. World renowned breast cancer specialist and investigator

Holder of the:
The Lisa K. Simmons Distinguished Chair in Comprehensive Oncology

As one of the country’s leading physician scientists in the treatment and research of breast cancer, and with almost three decades of clinical experience, Carlos L. Arteaga, M.D., likes to talk about the good news he has for his patients.

“The treatment of breast cancer has evolved dramatically over the last 30 years,” he says. “As cancer care has become increasingly sophisticated, the mortality for breast cancer has been increasingly in decline.”

Dr. Arteaga joined UT Southwestern in 2017 to take the helm as Director of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center and Associate Dean of Oncology Programs. He sees his position as the best way to continue his work in the remaking of cancer from a death sentence to a fallible foe.

Early Interventions Drive Optimal Outcomes

Dr. Arteaga points to a few things that have been key to the turning tides of breast cancer survival. 

“A main reason has been the wide use of screening mammograms, which allow detection of cancers when they are small and contained in the breast – and thus with high chances of cure. In addition, research and drug development have markedly improved treatments across all three breast cancer subtypes,” he says.

Early detection has had a huge impact in breast cancer outcomes. “If you go back 30 years,” Dr. Arteaga says, “probably 30 percent of breast cancers were diagnosed at stage 4 – when they are disseminated throughout the body and more difficult to cure. Today, however, women who are diagnosed at stage 4 breast cancer are a distinct minority.”

In fact, today many breast cancers are detected so early that a woman needs only limited surgery and adjuvant therapy in order to expect a full recovery.

Dr. Arteaga says that breast cancer care has also improved because of today’s multidisciplinary approach to treatment. 

“At UT Southwestern and other top cancer centers, a woman who receives a breast cancer diagnosis sees different breast specialists on day one. She might see a breast medical oncologist and a breast surgeon. And she might see other experts as well, such as a radiation oncologist, a plastic surgeon, and a genetic counselor.”

Dr. Arteaga says this collaborative approach to care at the time of cancer diagnosis significantly improves a woman’s outcomes.

The Rewards of Research

Another reason that breast cancer treatment has made so much progress is the abundance of new drugs and rational combinations being tested in clinical trials, which are the mechanism that allows physician scientists, such as Dr. Arteaga, and clinical investigators translate laboratory discoveries into approved therapies.

“Clinical trials are the only instrument we have as physicians and investigators to get new and better drugs approved,” he says.

Dr. Arteaga offers his patients the opportunity to participate in clinical trials whenever possible.

“A patient who is in a clinical trial is really getting the most superior care available,” he says. “These patients are being followed very closely, not only by a group of physicians but also by a team of nurses and other highly skilled providers.”

“By participating in clinical trials, our patients are a key part of the cancer research enterprise,” he says. “They have a perspective that we don't have as investigators. We cannot do it without them. They're an invaluable part of how we move forward.” 

Pushing the Leading Edge

Dr. Arteaga is eager to see how clinical research will continue to improve cancer care in the next 10 years. “But there are still many other issues that we have to face,” he notes.

“It's not all about the next best technology or treatment. We also have to keep in mind that there are issues with disparities of care and screening that are important. And those are things that UT Southwestern has addressed and will continue to address.”

Still too many patients die from cancer and we should honor them with renewed commitment to continue our efforts to reduce cancer mortality, Dr. Arteaga says. But there is every reason to have an optimistic outlook.

“We've made enormous progress,” he says. “I think that we live in an unprecedented time in the history of cancer care and cancer research. The momentum has never been greater. And I think the next 10 years are going to be transformative in the way we think of cancer, in the way we understand cancer, and in the way we go about treating it. It's going to be close to unimaginable.”