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Jennifer Ligibel, MD

Associate Professor, Medicine,
Harvard Medical School
Attending Physician, Adult Oncology
Dana Farber Cancer Institute
Boston, Massachusetts

Current Research

  • Seeking better outcomes for breast cancer patients through lifestyle interventions. 
  • A clinical trial is testing the effect of weight loss on risk of breast cancer recurrence in overweight breast cancer patients. 
  • This is the first study to test weight loss on breast cancer recurrence and could lead to effective interventions to improve breast cancer outcomes.

Obesity will soon replace cigarette smoking as the most prevalent preventable cause of cancer. Women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of breast cancer after menopause and a worse prognosis and increased risk of recurrence when diagnosed with breast cancer at any age. These facts limit the progress being made in treating and preventing breast cancer. Dr. Ligibel is leading a study to test the effect of a weight loss intervention on breast cancer recurrence in overweight and obese women.

Full Research Summary

Obesity is a growing health problem. Excess body weight has been linked to an increased risk of developing many diseases, including breast cancer. Emerging evidence also shows that women who are obese when they are diagnosed with breast cancer have a higher risk of cancer-related death as compared to leaner women. 
The Breast cancer Weight Loss (BWEL) study is a randomized trial evaluating the effect of a weight loss program on cancer recurrence in 3136 overweight and obese women with stage II-III breast cancer. The trial will determine whether women assigned to the weight loss program have lower rates of cancer recurrence and mortality compared to women in the control group. The study also collects blood and other biological specimens to learn more about how obesity impacts breast cancer. 
Study participants are randomly assigned to a 2-year weight loss program or to a control group. All participants receive a health education program consisting of evidence-based materials supporting a healthy lifestyle. Women randomized to the weight loss program also work with a health coach who delivers weight loss instruction and inspiration through telephone coaching. 
BWEL is the first trial testing the effect of losing weight after breast cancer diagnosis on the risk of cancer recurrence and mortality. If this study shows that losing weight improves outcomes in women with breast cancer, programs supporting weight loss will become a standard part of the treatment for thousands of breast cancer patients around the world.


Jennifer Ligibel, MD, is a Senior Physician in Medical Oncology in the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Director of the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies and Healthy Living at Dana-Farber, and an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Ligibel’s research focuses on the impact of lifestyle interventions upon cancer-related outcomes in breast and other cancers. She has conducted numerous studies looking at the impact of exercise and weight loss interventions upon patients’ quality of life, as well as the biological impact of increased exercise, consumption of a healthy diet, and weight loss in breast cancer survivors. Dr. Ligibel is currently leading a trial of more than 3100 breast cancer patients, the Breast Cancer Weight Loss (BWEL) trial, which will test whether a weight loss program reduces the risk of cancer recurrence and mortality in women who are overweight or obese when they are diagnosed with breast cancer.

Through her role in the Leonard P. Zakim Center, Dr. Ligibel also directs programming for patients and their family members focused on utilizing non-pharmacologic means to alleviate physical and psychological side effects of cancer diagnosis and treatment. She also leads the American Society of Clinical Oncology Energy Balance Subcommittee, which is working to increase awareness of the connections between obesity and cancer among oncologists and patients.

Dr. Ligibel received her Doctor of Medicine from Washington University School of Medicine in 1996. She completed her residency in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1999 and her fellowship in hematology/oncology at Dana-Farber/Partners CancerCare in 2001. She has practiced in the Breast Oncology Program in the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber since 2001.

Large Researcher Headshot - Ligibel Jennfier

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Pink Agenda Award

Area(s) of Focus