Dr. Patricia Ganz Awarded the American Cancer Society's Medal of Honor

Dr. Patricia Ganz
Dr. Patricia Ganz is helping lead a new study that ultimately aims to help patients make better-informed decisions about cancer treatment.

Dr. Patricia Ganz, a nationally renowned expert in survivorship, cancer prevention and control and quality of life issues for survivors, was awarded the American Cancer Society’s Medal of Honor today, the highest honor bestowed by the organization.

The Medal of Honor, first awarded in 1949, is presented for outstanding contributions to the fight against cancer. Ganz, along with two other recipients, received the award today at a ceremony during the society’s annual meeting in Atlanta. Ganz received her award for the clinical research she’s done as director of cancer prevention and control research at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Considered the national expert on quality of life after breast cancer, Ganz’s novel studies have changed the way the medical community addresses the myriad health problems experienced by cancer survivors, including sexual dysfunction, psychosocial concerns, early onset menopause and the fogginess of thought known as “chemo brain.” Ganz has focused on quality of life research for more than 20 years and has urged physicians to aggressively treat these late effects of cancer treatment to significantly improve quality of life for survivors.

“I am deeply honored to receive this award, and especially for its acknowledgement of the importance of studying the health outcomes of cancer survivors,” Ganz said. “With more than 12 million survivors living in the United States today, we cannot ignore the long-term effects of cancer treatment and need to do a better job coordinating their post-treatment care.”

Ganz also focuses on cancer prevention and founded the UCLA Family Cancer Registry, which offers services to people with strong family histories of cancer who can be counseled on and receive genetic testing for cancer causing genes. Ganz also directs the UCLA-LIVESTRONG Survivorship Center of Excellence and is a founding member of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, the first national organization for survivors, established in 1986.

Ganz grew up in Beverly Hills, the daughter of a physician and a homemaker who later ran a family business. The oldest of two children, Ganz attended Harvard and majored in biology, hoping to become a researcher. She spent her summers working in UCLA laboratories. In her third year of college, Ganz decided to attend medical school, and ultimately returned to Los Angeles where she was one of only three women in a class of 120 medical students at UCLA.

Once Ganz decided on oncology, she focused on quality of life in cancer patients and survivors, something no one else was doing. In 1978, after she completed her fellowship training in oncology, Ganz choose to work at the Sepulveda VA Medical Center, where she opened a hospice unit to provide palliative care to patients. Instead of focusing on the last few weeks of life, Ganz and her team provided multidisciplinary, symptom-focused care from diagnosis until death. 

That early work inspired ensuing decades of research focused on the outcomes of cancer treatment in cancer patients and survivors.  In 1992, Ganz joined the UCLA School of Public Health as a full-time faculty member and as director of the Jonsson Cancer Center’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control Research to better translate her clinical and research findings to the population through teaching and policy activities.

A professor of health services and medicine at UCLA, Ganz was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine in 2007 and has received numerous awards, including the Israel Cancer Research Fund Women of Action Award, a Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Professor of Survivorship Award, the American Society of Breast Disease Pathfinder Award and has been an American Cancer Society Clinical Research Professor since 1999.