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Nancy E. Davidson, MD

President & Executive Director, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
Senior Vice President, Director,
and Full Member, Clinical Research Division,
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Head, Department of Medicine, Division of Medical Oncology,
University of Washington
Seattle, Washington
Chair, BCRF Scientific Advisory Board

Current Research

Goal: Improving breast cancer outcomes through healthy lifestyle interventions.

Impact: Dr. Davidson is conducting studies that will inform the development of an effective nutrition and exercise program to reduce the risk of recurrence and improve survival in women who have undergone treatment for breast cancer. 

What’s next: She and her team will test the effect of the behavioral intervention of diet and physical activity on biomarkers of inflammation in the blood as well as changes in the gut microbiota and bacteria metabolites. 

Cancer patients are advised to follow the same health guidelines as healthy individuals—consume five daily servings of fruits and vegetables and engage in 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week—to help reduce the risk of recurrence and improve survival. However, these guidelines can be challenging for patients undergoing cancer treatment, and there is little data available to guide the development of behavioral interventions that would help them achieve these goals. Dr. Davidson is testing programs that provide this support, which may serve as a new model for supportive oncology care. 

Full Research Summary

Research area: Testing the long-term effectiveness of an economical lifestyle intervention for breast cancer patients following treatment.

Impact: Breast cancer deaths have declined 40 percent since their peak thirty years ago, resulting in the largest cancer survivorship group in the U.S. Despite this trend, approximately 25 percent of patients diagnosed with early stage breast cancer will have a recurrence, sometimes many years after treatment. Dr. Davidson is conducting studies to test the long-term effectiveness of a scalable and cost-effective lifestyle program for breast cancer patients, which could serve as a new model for supportive oncology care. 

Current investigation: Dr. Davidson is testing behavioral interventions that could improve breast cancer outcomes. They will also examine the effects of these interventions on blood biomarkers of systemic inflammation and gut microbiome health. 

What she’s learned so far: The benefits of maintaining a healthy diet and regular physical activity on reducing risk of recurrence and improving quality of life after a breast cancer diagnosis have been well established. The mechanisms underlying these benefits may be related to inflammation, hormone metabolism, oxidative stress, and energy balance. Lifestyle habits are also known to influence the composition of gut microbiota, which plays an important role in immune response and inflammation. Less is known, however, about the implications of lifestyle-induced changes in the microbiome for breast cancer prognosis and survival. 

What’s next: Dr. Davidson and her team will analyze the effect of behavioral interventions on changes in the diversity and abundance of gut microbial communities, their metabolites (such as short chain fatty acids), and markers of systemic inflammation and gut permeability—which plays an important role in both nutrient absorption and protecting the body from toxins or other harmful substances. 


Dr. Davidson is a world-renowned breast cancer researcher who serves as Senior Vice President and Director of the Clinical Research Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, President and Executive Director of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and Head of the Division of Medical Oncology at the University of Washington.

Dr. Davidson has published key findings on the role of hormones, particularly estrogen, on gene expression and cell growth in breast cancer. She has guided several important national clinical trials of new therapies for breast cancer, including chemo-endocrine therapy for premenopausal breast cancer. Her research has been supported by a portfolio of funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Defense, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and Susan G. Komen for the Cure. She has authored over 350 articles in the top journals of her field.

An elected member of the Association of American Physicians, National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Davidson is an active member of the scientific advisory boards as well as external advisory boards of many foundations and cancer centers. She has also served as an elected member of the Board of Directors of the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) - the two largest organizations for cancer researchers and oncology professionals in the world. She was President of ASCO from 2007 to 2008 and President of AACR from 2016 to 2017.

Dr. Davidson earned her MD degree from Harvard Medical School and completed her internal medicine internship at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and internal medicine residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Subsequently, Dr. Davidson completed a medical oncology fellowship at the NIH’s National Cancer Institute. She was a faculty member in the Department of Oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine from 1986 to 2009, serving as Director of the Breast Cancer Program from 1994 to 2009 and as the Breast Cancer Research Chair of Oncology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine from 1995 – 2009. From 2009-2016 she served as Hillman Professor of Medicine and Associate Vice Chancellor for Cancer Research at the University of Pittsburgh and Director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

Grid Researcher Headshot - Davidson N

BCRF Investigator Since