Integrating Lifestyle Into Breast Cancer Management with Dr. Dawn Mussallem


Photo by Angiola Harry on Unsplash

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, except for skin cancers. The silver lining is that much of breast cancer can be prevented by how women live.

“We know that that number is at least 33%,” Dr. Dawn Mussallem shares in this episode.

As a diagnostic breast and lifestyle medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Mussallem works with women with their newly diagnosed breast cancer to help them with lifestyle in their most vulnerable time. Her passion is to be able to be there for them and to help empower them through lifestyle to keep them well during the breast cancer journey, as well as health outcomes after the breast cancer journey.

While it’s not about just one food, she highlights exciting research “that in breast cancer, patients who have just merely two servings of berries a week, that there was a 25% improved breast cancer-specific survival.” She encourages her patients to get half a cup of berries each day and lets them know that frozen is just as good as fresh.

She also shared data from the Nurse’s Health Study “that women who ate a Western diet before their breast cancer and decided to change after their breast cancer had a 23% breast cancer-specific improved survival.” We also talk about how beans, the gut microbiome, soy, and overnight fast can improve breast cancer outcomes.

“The take-home message for my patients is, listen, it’s never too late. We can use cancer as a springboard to lifestyle change.”

Here are some of the details of our conversation:

[00:14:37] – Talking about nutrition

[00:15:49] – Changing how we eat

[00:20:13] – Research on plant-based milk

[00:24:24] – The importance of protein

[00:27:32] – Diverse gut microbiome

[00:31:15] – What do you recommend around soy

[00:35:19] – Fasting for breast cancer

[00:37:08] – Social connectedness

Dr. Mussallem is a consultant in the Department of General Internal Medicine at Mayo Clinic and is an Assistant Professor of Medicine. She is a diagnostic breast and lifestyle medicine specialist at The Robert and Monica Jacoby Center for Breast Health and serves as Medical Director for Mayo Clinic Florida Lyndra P. Daniel Center for Humanities in Medicine. Dr. Mussallem is double-board certified, including a board certification in Lifestyle Medicine. She has over 25 years of patient-centered clinical wellness experience and national recognition in the field of breast medicine, lifestyle medicine, integrative oncology, cancer prevention, and cancer survivorship, and a unique personal experience as a stage IV cancer patient diagnosed 3 months into medical school, as well as a heart transplant recipient. She shares that her journey as a patient cultivated her boundless energy and deep purpose to help guide patients toward renewed vitality. In 2015, she founded the Integrative Medicine and Breast Health Program at Mayo Clinic Florida, a patient-centered program that works with breast cancer patients during and after a breast cancer diagnosis, introducing them early on to the importance of lifestyle optimization and evidence-based mind-body practices alongside conventional cancer treatments with a goal to reframe the cancer diagnosis as a “teacher of life,” leading patients to discover renewed vitality through healthier living.


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