“If you are interested in the whole person, you can’t help but be impressed with the impact of the disease on their person and their social context,” she says. “You can’t treat it in a vacuum.”
Focusing on breast cancer – a condition many patients survive for decades – Ganz documented the effects of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy on patients and their relationships with their partners. The results reveal that “most women are doing quite well … if you look at them overall and compare them to women who don’t have cancer, they’re functioning at a high level.”
According to Ganz, 5 to 10 percent of individuals with breast cancer come from families with a history of cancer. “We can often identify genes ... that predispose someone to get cancer,” she says. “If you knew you had these genes, you would know what you can do” ahead of time.
That’s why Ganz is founding director of UCLA’s Family Cancer Registry. Individuals with a documented genetic predisposition to develop breast, ovarian, prostate or colon cancer can enroll and receive genetic counseling, access to molecular testing and updates on prevention trials relevant to them and their family members.
The most rewarding part of her job is researching the issues affecting her patients. “If you can do research to try to understand what’s causing [the problem], you have a chance to do something about it in the future,” she says.
One of eight people nationwide to hold the American Cancer Society clinical research professorship, Ganz is director of Cancer Prevention and Control Research at UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center; she is also the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s first Professor of Survivorship. “We all do what we do because we love what we do, but it’s always nice when somebody else says you’re doing a good job,” Ganz says.
She has received the American Cancer Society Professor of Clinical Research Award (1999), the UCLA Medical Alumni Association Professional Achievement Award (1998) and the Avon Breast Cancer Leadership Prize (1996). A UCLA alumna (M.D.'73), Ganz will receive the UCLA Alumni Association’s Professional Achievement Award in May 2004.
By combining her mind and her heart in her studies, Ganz brings her skills and compassion together to affect the lives of millions of cancer patients and survivors.