For This Giant of Cancer Care, a Holistic Approach Was Always in the Treatment Plan

Jessica Skarzynski
Published: Wednesday, Mar 20, 2019
Patricia A. Ganz, MD

Patricia A. Ganz, MD

Patricia A. Ganz, MD—Patti to her friends and colleagues—sees herself as positive minded. “As an oncologist, you have to be very optimistic,” she said. Her mother used to say that everything turns out for the best, and this same philosophy has served Ganz well during a career spanning 4 decades.

A pioneer in cancer survivorship and the late effects of cancer treatment, with heavy clinical and research involvement in breast cancer and its prevention, Ganz has spent much of her life working to improve the quality of care for patients with cancer. Treating the whole patient and delivering high-quality cancer care are concepts she has embraced throughout her career.

She has been a faculty member of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA since 1978 and the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health since 1992. Currently she is director of the Center for Cancer Prevention and Control Research at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center (JCCC) at UCLA.

An Exciting New Field

Although she worked in a pediatric cardiology laboratory at UCLA during summer breaks in college, Ganz correctly anticipated that her career focus would be on adults, largely as a result of exposure to her father’s practice in occupational medicine for workers in the industrial area of Los Angeles. She briefly considered becoming a cardiologist. However, when she became a first-year resident in the 1970s, a dynamic new chief of hematology and oncology served as her attending physician and sparked her interest in this exciting field.

Engaging with patients with cancer was easier, Ganz said. “Even the patients I saw who had advanced disease, you could talk to them about what was happening. You couldn’t do that with patients with advanced cardiac disease, who were very depressed but wouldn’t open up and talk.”

It didn’t hurt that chemotherapy drugs were being introduced that revolutionized the treatment landscape. “Some of the new drugs that were becoming available, like cisplatin and doxorubicin, were really exciting, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it looks like we’re going to be able to cure cancer,’” Ganz said.

“It was that experience that made me think, ‘This is a whole new field. Maybe I’ll do a fellowship in this.’”

A Bright Start

Growing up in Los Angeles, Ganz had a broad range of service-oriented interests and no shortage of role models.

She also had diverse academic interests in high school. Ganz credits her parents for encouraging her to explore every possibility.

In addition to doing clerical work for her father’s medical practice in the summers, Ganz drew inspiration from her mother’s search for professional fulfillment outside the home.

“You have to imagine, this was in the 1960s. Where I grew up, nobody’s mother worked,” said Ganz.

“My father was always saying I should consider medicine, and I didn’t know if I wanted to go to school for that long.”

Nevertheless, after high school, Ganz attended Radcliffe College and was a member of a class of 300 women who, in 1969, were the last to graduate separately from Harvard University. In the all-female class, Ganz was “surrounded by bright women.” Ganz said that she never would have thought of going to medical school were it not for the women in classes ahead of her who inspired her.

Whole-Patient Care

Ganz completed her training in internal medicine and hematology and oncology at UCLA Medical Center from 1973-1978, also serving as chief resident in medicine. In her first faculty appointment, Ganz was given the opportunity to start a hospice at a UCLA-affiliated Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital. We created a ward that wasn’t just for people in the last few months of life. We were taking care of a spectrum of patients.”

This experience profoundly altered her thinking. “I realized that all the things that hospice was proposing in terms of psychosocial support, symptom management, and so forth, we should be doing for everyone from the time of diagnosis.”

Ganz had a wonderful medical support team and said that running that unit pointed her toward the concept of whole-patient care.


View Conference Coverage
Online CME Activities
TitleExpiration DateCME Credits
Community Practice Connections™: How Do We Leverage PARP Inhibition Strategies in the Contemporary Treatment of Breast Cancer?May 31, 20191.5
Community Practice Connections™: A Better Way to Stop Pain: Paths Toward Responsible Postsurgical Pain Management for Patients With Breast CancerMay 31, 20191.5
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