Mary C Playdon, PhD, MPH portrait
  • Adjunct Assistant Professor, Population Health Sciences
  • Assistant Professor, Nutrition & Integrative Physiology

Research Statement

Dr. Playdon's research focuses on the role of modifiable lifestyle factors like diet and obesity in the development of cancer and survival after cancer diagnosis. With her collaborators, she has done cutting-edge research on developing dietary biomarkers using metabolomics to improve dietary measurement, and understand the mechanisms underlying dietary relationships with disease. Her research program at the University of Utah is further characterizing promising dietary biomarkers, exploring metabolic phenotype in the development of female and other diet-related cancers like colorectal cancer, and applying nutritional metabolomics to studies of cancer survivorship, including cohort studies and dietary interventions.

Cancer patients, and the public, have a strong interest in what dietary factors might prevent cancer or improve survival after cancer diagnosis. Many questions remain, since dietary measurement is prone to errors that can make it difficult to detect diet-cancer signals. Dr. Playdon's recent work validating dietary biomarkers has uncovered several markers with potential to be considered 'gold standard' that could be used to improve the measurement of diet. She also uncovered the trove of information available by measuring metabolites from a small blood sample: what a person ate, how that food might have been processed and prepared, and how their metabolism has responded to diet. Since many large observational studies have thousands or tens of thousands of patient samples in storage, nutritional metabolomics could be conducted with immediate effect and applied to studies of diseases like cancer on a very large-scale. This has the potential to dramatically shift the landscape of nutritional research.

Many cancer survivors, particularly survivors of obesity-related cancers, are at high risk of developing comorbidities after cancer diagnosis, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Dr. Playdon is developing studies to explore the etiology of metabolic abnormalities and comorbidities among cancer patients using molecular epidemiology approaches. Furthermore, she is studying strategies to improve metabolic health among cancer patients including modifying dietary pattern, meal timing, and lifestyle interventions that include combinations of diet and physical activity. 

Having counseled hundreds of women that are living with a diagnosis of cancer on diet and lifestyle change as a research dietitian continues to inspire Dr. Playdon's passion for making discoveries related to the role of nutrition in both preventing cancer, and prolonging life and improving the quality of life of cancer survivors.

Research Keywords

  • Natural History of a Disease
  • Molecular Systematics


  • I Know What You Ate Last Summer. University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA. , Presented, 2019.
  • The Next Big Thing in Nutrition for Cancer Prevention and Survivorship, Huntsman Cancer Institute Women’s Disease Oriented Team (WDOT). , Presented, 2019.
  • Nutritional metabolomics: Opportunities for disease prevention and control. Diabetes and Metabolism Research Center Symposium, University of Utah, Salt Lake City. , Presented, 2018.
  • The Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program NCI Summer Curriculum in Molecular Cancer Prevention. Course Title: “Metabolomics: Applications to epidemiology and cancer etiology studies.”. , Presented, 2017.
  • Preferred health information needs and sources of long-term cancer survivors in the ACS Study of Cancer Survivors-I, Yale Cancer Prevention and Control Research Program, New Haven, CT. , Presented, 2014.
  • Unique Weight Management Concerns of Breast Cancer Survivors: The Lifestyle Exercise and Nutrition Study, Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo, Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, Houston TX. , Presented, 2013.
  • Objective biomarkers of usual diet: a metabolomics analysis of weighed food intake. 14th International Conference of the Metabolomics Society, Seattle, WA. , Presented, 2018.
  • Metabolomic profiles of food intake and dietary patterns. National Institutes of Health Workshop on Omics Approaches, Bethesda, MD. , Presented, 2018.
  • Dietary biomarkers in the age of metabolomics, NIH Nutrition Research Coordinating Committee (NRCC), Rockville, MD. , Presented, 2017.
  • Application of metabolomics to dietary patterns research, Dietary Patterns Methods Project, US National Interest Group. , Presented, 2017.
  • Nutritional metabolomics and application to breast cancer etiology, Trans-NIH Metabolomics Interest Group Lecture Series, Bethesda, MD. , Presented, 2016.
  • Identifying biomarkers of dietary patterns using metabolomics, COnsortium of METabolomics Studies Annual Meeting, Rockville, MD. , Presented, 2016.
  • Nutritional metabolomics and breast cancer risk in a prospective study, Epidemiology Congress of the Americas 2016, Miami, FL. , Presented, 2016.
  • Playdon MC. Sociocultural Influences on Dietary Behavior and Meal Timing Among Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Women at Risk of Endometrial Cancer: A Qualitative Investigation. Poster session to be presented at American Society of Nutrition NUTRITION 2022 LIVE. Virtual. Poster, , 2022.
  • Playdon MC. Identifying urinary and serum biomarkers of habitual weighed food intake in an ancillary feeding study within the Women’s Health Initiative Nutrition and Physical Activity Assessment Study (NPAAS). Poster session presented at American College of Epidemiology Conference, New Orleans, LA. Poster, Presented, 2017.
  • Playdon MC. Alcohol and estrogen metabolites in postmenopausal women in a nested case-control study within the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. Poster session presented at American College of Epidemiology Conference, New Orleans, LA. Poster, Presented, 2017.
  • Playdon MC. Nutritional metabolomics and breast cancer risk in a prospective study. Poster session presented at COnsortium of METabolomics Studies (COMETS) Conference, Rockville, MD. Poster, Presented, 2016.
  • Playdon MC. Comparing metabolite profiles of habitual diet in serum and urine. Poster session presented at Metabolomics 2015 Conference, San Francisco, CA. Poster, Presented, 2015.
  • Playdon MC. Comparing biospecimens for nutritional metabolomics. Poster session presented at 2015 National Cancer Institute Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics Fellow’s Training Symposium, Rockville, MD. Poster, Presented, 2015.
  • Playdon MC. Diet and Survival After a Diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer. Poster session presented at American Institute for Cancer Research Research Conference, Washington, DC. Poster, Presented, 2013.
  • Playdon MC. Effect of dietary patterns differing in carbohydrate and fat content on blood lipid profiles based on weight loss success of breast cancer survivors. Poster session presented at American Institute for Cancer Research Research Conference, Washington, DC. Poster, Presented, 2011.

Research Groups

Grants, Contracts & Research Gifts

  • Investigating metabolic obesity, meal timing, and diet quality in the development of cardiometabolic outcomes in endometrial cancer patients. PI: - 2024. Total project budget to date:
  • Dietary botanical diversity in relation to gut microbial diversity and activity and gastrointestinal symptoms among colorectal cancer patients. PI: - 2024. Total project budget to date:
  • Metabolomics of insulinemic diets and colon cancer risk. PI: Fred Tabung. - 2024. Total project budget to date:
  • Novel biomarkers for cancer-related fatigue: Integrating metabolomics, genomics, and behavior. PI: Jane Figueiredo. - 2025. Total project budget to date:
  • Inflammatory lipid mediators and aromatase inhibitor-associated arthralgias in breast cancer. PI: Lynn Henry. - 2023. Total project budget to date:
  • Feasibility and acceptability of time restricted eating among endometrial cancer patients. PI: - 2022. Total project budget to date:
  • Treatment and lifestyle determinants of type II diabetes risk and consequences among cancer survivors. PI: - 2022. Total project budget to date:
  • Leveraging genomic data to determine the shared genetics of diabetes and cancer. PI: Sheetal Hardikar. - 2021. Total project budget to date:
  • Feasibility and acceptability of time restricted feeding among Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women at risk for developing endometrial cancer. PI: - 2022. Total project budget to date:
  • Exploring the etiology of diabetes after endometrial cancer diagnosis using ‘omics technology. PI: - 2022. Total project budget to date:
  • Metabolic phenotype trajectory of ovarian cancer patients over the treatment course: a pilot study. PI: Jennifer A. Doherty. - 2019. Total project budget to date:
  • Blood metabolite profiles and risk of developing endometrial and estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer. PI: - 2022. Total project budget to date:


  • English, Fluent.


  • Evans AM,O’Donovan C,Playdon M,Beecher C,Beger RD,Bowden JA,Broadhurst D,Clish CB,Dasari S,Dunn WB,Griffin JL,Hartung T,Hsu PC,Huan T,Jans J,Jones CM,Kachman M,Kleensang A,Lewis MR,Monge ME,Mosley JD,Taylor E,Tayyari F,Theodoridis G,Torta F,Ubhi BK,Vuckovic D (date unknown). Dissemination and analysis of the quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC) practices of LC–MS based untargeted metabolomics practitioners. Vol. 16. Accepted, .
  • Maruvada P, Lampe JW, Wishart DS, Barupal D, Chester DN, Dodd D, Djoumbou-Feunang Y, Dorrestein PC, Dragsted LO, Draper J, Duffy LC, Dwyer JT, Emenaker NJ, Fiehn O, Gerszten RE, B Hu F, Karp RW, Klurfeld DM, Laughlin MR, Little AR, Lynch CJ, Moore SC, Nicas... (date unknown). Perspective: Dietary Biomarkers of Intake and Exposure—Exploration with Omics Approaches. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.). Accepted, .
  • Playdon MC, Joshi AD, Tabung FK, Cheng S, Henglin M, Kim A, Lin T, van Roekel EH, Huang J, Krumsiek J, Wang Y, Mathé E, Temprosa M, Moore S, Chawes B, Eliassen AH, Gsur A, Gunter MJ, Harada S, Langenberg C, Oresic M, Perng W, Seow WJ, Zeleznik OA (date unknown). Metabolomics Analytics Workflow for Epidemiological Research: Perspectives from the Consortium of Metabolomics Studies (COMETS). Vol. 9. Accepted, .
  • Kiblawi R,Holowatyj AN,Gigic B,Brezina S,Geijsen AJMR,Ose J,Lin T,Hardikar S,Himbert C,Warby CA,Böhm J,Bours MJL,Van Duijnhoven FJB,Gumpenberger T,Kok DE,Koole JL,Van Roekel EH,Schrotz-King P,Ulvik A,Gsur A,Habermann N,Weijenberg MP,Ueland PM,Schneider M,Ulrich A,Ulrich CM,Playdon M (date unknown). One-carbon metabolites, B vitamins and associations with systemic inflammation and angiogenesis biomarkers among colorectal cancer patients: Results from the ColoCare Study. Vol. 123, 1187-1200. Accepted, .
  • Hardikar S,Albrechtsen RD,Achaintre D,Lin T,Pauleck S,Playdon M,Holowatyj AN,Gigic B,Schrotz-King P,Boehm J,Habermann N,Brezina S,Gsur A,van Roekel EH,Weijenberg MP,Keski-Rahkonen P,Scalbert A,Ose J,Ulrich CM (date unknown). Impact of pre-blood collection factors on plasma metabolomic profiles. Vol. 10. Accepted, .
  • Thompson HJ, Levitt JO, McGinley JN, Chandler P, Guenther PM, Huybrechts I, Playdon MC (date unknown). Measuring Dietary Botanical Diversity as a Proxy for Phytochemical Exposure. Vol. 13. Accepted, .
  • Poss AM, Maschek JA, Cox JE, Hauner BJ, Hopkins PN, Hunt SC, Holland WL, Summers SA, Playdon MC (date unknown). Machine learning reveals serum sphingolipids as cholesterol-independent biomarkers of coronary artery disease. Vol. 130, 1363-1376. Accepted, .
  • Xiao Q,Bauer C,Layne T,Playdon M (date unknown). The association between overnight fasting and body mass index in older adults: the interaction between duration and timing. Vol. 45, 555-564. Accepted, .
  • Moore SC, Mazzilli KM, Sampson JN, Matthews CE, Carter BD, Playdon MC, Wang Y, Stevens VL (date unknown). A Metabolomics Analysis of Postmenopausal Breast Cancer Risk in the Cancer Prevention Study II. Vol. 11. Accepted, .
  • Kiblawi R, Holowatyj AN, Gigic B, Brezina S, Geijsen AJMR, Ose J, Lin T, Hardikar S, Himbert C, Warby CA, Böhm J, Bours MJL, van Duijnhoven FJB, Gumpenberger T, Kok DE, Koole JL, van Roekel EH, Schrotz-King P, Ulvik A, Gsur A, Habermann N, Weijenberg MP, U... (date unknown). One-carbon metabolites, B-vitamins and associations with systemic inflammation and angiogenesis biomarkers among colorectal cancer patients: results from the ColoCare Study. The British journal of nutrition. 1-32. Accepted, .
  • Kim S,Park J,Chen Y,Rowe K,Snyder J,Fraser A,Smith K,Deshmukh VG,Newman M,Herget K,Porucznik CA,Ose D,Playdon M,Gaffney D,Hashibe M (date unknown). Long-term diabetes risk among endometrial cancer survivors in a population-based cohort study. Vol. 156, 185-193. Accepted, .
  • Beger RD,Dunn WB,Bandukwala A,Bethan B,Broadhurst D,Clish CB,Dasari S,Derr L,Evans A,Fischer S,Flynn T,Hartung T,Herrington D,Higashi R,Hsu PC,Jones C,Kachman M,Karuso H,Kruppa G,Lippa K,Maruvada P,Mosley J,Ntai I,O’Donovan C,Playdon M,Raftery D,Shaughnessy D,Souza A,Spaeder T,Spalholz B,Tayyari F,Ubhi B,Verma M,Walk T,Wilson I,Witkin K,Bearden DW,Zanetti KA (date unknown). Towards quality assurance and quality control in untargeted metabolomics studies. Vol. 15. Accepted, .
  • Murphy RA,Moore S,Playdon M,Kritchevsky S,Newman AB,Satterfield S,Ayonayon H,Clish C,Gerszten R,Harris TB (date unknown). Metabolites associated with risk of developing mobility disability in the health, aging and body composition study. Vol. 74, 73-80. Accepted, .
  • Playdon MC,Bracken MB,Sanft TB,Ligibel JA,Harrigan M,Irwin ML (date unknown). Response. Vol. 108. Accepted, .
  • Coletta AM, Playdon MC, Baron KG, Wei M, Kelley K, Vaklavas C, Beck A, Buys SS, Chipman J, Ulrich CM, Walker D, White S, Oza S, Zingg RW, Hansen PA (date unknown). The association between time-of-day of habitual exercise training and changes in relevant cancer health outcomes among cancer survivors. (pp. e0258135). Vol. 16. Accepted, .
  • McGee EE, Kiblawi R, Playdon MC, Eliassen AH (date unknown). Correction to: Nutritional Metabolomics in Cancer Epidemiology: Current Trends, Challenges, and Future Directions. (pp. 202). Vol. 8. Accepted, .
  • Nicholson RJ, Poss AM, Maschek JA, Cox JE, Hopkins PN, Hunt SC, Playdon MC, Holland WL, Summers SA (date unknown). Characterizing a Common CERS2 Polymorphism in a Mouse Model of Metabolic Disease and in Subjects from the Utah CAD Study. (pp. e3098-e3109). Vol. 106. Accepted, .
  • Qi J, Spinelli JJ, Dummer TJB, Bhatti P, Playdon MC, Levitt JO, Hauner B, Moore SC, Murphy RA (date unknown). Metabolomics and cancer preventive behaviors in the BC Generations Project. (pp. 12094). Vol. 11. Accepted, .
  • Shu X, Chen Z, Long J, Guo X, Yang Y, Qu C, Ahn YO, Cai Q, Casey G, Gruber SB, Huyghe JR, Jee SH, Jenkins MA, Jia WH, Jung KJ, Kamatani Y, Kim DH, Kim J, Kweon SS, Le Marchand L, Matsuda K, Matsuo K, Newcomb PA, Oh JH, Ose J, Oze I, Pai RK, Pan ZZ, Pharoah PDP, Playdon MC, Ren ZF, Schoen RE, Shin A, Shin MH, Shu XO, Sun X, Tangen CM, Tanikawa C, Ulrich CM, van Duijnhoven FJB, Van Guelpen B, Wolk A, Woods MO, Wu AH, Peters U, Zheng W (date unknown). Large-scale Integrated Analysis of Genetics and Metabolomic Data Reveals Potential Links Between Lipids and Colorectal Cancer Risk. (pp. 1216-1226). Vol. 31. Accepted, .
  • Yu B, Zanetti KA, Temprosa M, Albanes D, Appel N, Barrera CB, Ben-Shlomo Y, Boerwinkle E, Casas JP, Clish C, Dale C, Dehghan A, Derkach A, Eliassen AH, Elliott P, Fahy E, Gieger C, Gunter MJ, Harada S, Harris T, Herr DR, Herrington D, Hirschhorn JN, Hoover E, Hsing AW, Johansson M, Kelly RS, Khoo CM, Kivimäki M, Kristal BS, Langenberg C, Lasky-Su J, Lawlor DA, Lotta LA, Mangino M, Le Marchand L, Mathé E, Matthews CE, Menni C, Mucci LA, Murphy R, Oresic M, Orwoll E, Ose J, Pereira AC, Playdon MC, Poston L, Price J, Qi Q, Rexrode K, Risch A, Sampson J, Seow WJ, Sesso HD, Shah SH, Shu XO, Smith GCS, Sovio U, Stevens VL, Stolzenberg-Solomon R, Takebayashi T, Tillin T, Travis R, Tzoulaki I, Ulrich CM, Vasan RS, Verma M, Wang Y, Wareham NJ, Wong A, Younes N, Zhao H, Zheng W, Moore SC (date unknown). The Consortium of Metabolomics Studies (COMETS): Metabolomics in 47 Prospective Cohort Studies. (pp. 991-1012). Vol. 188. Accepted, .
  • Mazzilli KM, McClain KM, Lipworth L, Playdon MC, Sampson JN, Clish CB, Gerszten RE, Freedman ND, Moore SC (date unknown). Identification of 102 Correlations between Serum Metabolites and Habitual Diet in a Metabolomics Study of the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Trial. (pp. 694-703). Vol. 150. Accepted, .
  • Xiao Q, Matthews CE, Playdon M, Bauer C (date unknown). The association between rest-activity rhythms and glycemic markers: the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2011-2014. Vol. 45. Accepted, .
  • McGee EE, Kiblawi R, Playdon MC, Eliassen AH (date unknown). Nutritional Metabolomics in Cancer Epidemiology: Current Trends, Challenges, and Future Directions. (pp. 187-201). Vol. 8. Accepted, .
  • Playdon M,Thomas G,Sanft T,Harrigan M,Ligibel J,Irwin M (date unknown). Weight loss intervention for breast cancer survivors: A systematic review. (pp. 222-246). Vol. 5. Accepted, .
  • Crowder SL, Playdon MC, Gudenkauf LM, Ose J, Gigic B, Greathouse L, Peoples AR, Sleight AG, Jim HSL, Figueiredo JC (date unknown). A Molecular Approach to Understanding the Role of Diet in Cancer-Related Fatigue: Challenges and Future Opportunities. Vol. 14. Accepted, .
  • Maruvada P,Lampe JW,Wishart DS,Barupal D,Chester DN,Dodd D,Djoumbou-Feunang Y,Dorrestein PC,Dragsted LO,Draper J,Duffy LC,Dwyer JT,Emenaker NJ,Fiehn O,Gerszten RE,B Hu F,Karp RW,Klurfeld DM,Laughlin MR,Little AR,Lynch CJ,Moore SC,Nicastro HL,O'Brien DM,Ordovás JM,Osganian SK,Playdon M,Prentice R,Raftery D,Reisdorph N,Roche HM,Ross SA,Sang S,Scalbert A,Srinivas PR,Zeisel SH (date unknown). Perspective: Dietary Biomarkers of Intake and Exposure - Exploration with Omics Approaches. (pp. 200-215). Vol. 11. Accepted, .
  • Veettil SK, Wong TY, Loo YS, Playdon MC, Lai NM, Giovannucci EL, Chaiyakunapruk N (date unknown). Role of Diet in Colorectal Cancer Incidence: Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses of Prospective Observational Studies. (pp. e2037341). Vol. 4. Accepted, .