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Melinda L. Irwin, PhD, MPH
Professor of Epidemiology and Associate Dean of Research,
Yale School of Public Health
Associate Cancer Center Director (Population Sciences), Yale Cancer Center
Deputy Director (Public Health), Yale Center for Clinical Investigation
Yale School of Public Health
New Haven, Connecticut
Goal: To understand how lifestyle factors such as weight and exercise impact the risk of breast cancer and breast cancer outcomes.
Impact: Dr. Irwin is investigating the impact of exercise and nutrition on changes in breast cancer biomarkers, adherence to therapy, body composition, and quality of life in women diagnosed with breast cancer. Her findings may inform the development of more personalized lifestyle prescriptions, which in turn may lead to a lower risk of recurrence and mortality while also improving quality of life.
What’s next: She and her team will continue to investigate the biological mechanisms mediating the effect of exercise and weight loss on breast cancer prognosis.
Lifestyle factors such as physical activity can impact the risk of breast cancer as well as breast cancer outcomes. Dr. Irwin has found that both weight loss and exercise favorably change biomarkers related to breast cancer. She also found that exercise reduced side effects due to aromatase inhibitor (an anti- estrogen medicine) use. Her continued work investigating the impact of physical activity, diet, and weight on breast cancer survivorship could lead to the development of personalized lifestyle prescriptions to improve breast cancer outcomes.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Understanding the biological mechanisms mediating the effects of exercise and weight loss on breast cancer prognosis for the development of more personalized lifestyle prescriptions.
Impact: Obesity increases the risk of breast cancer in older women, and it also increases the risk of breast cancer recurrence at any age of diagnosis. Given that lifestyle and physical activity are impacted most during the first year after a breast cancer diagnosis, intervening soon after diagnosis may have the biggest impact on breast cancer outcomes. Dr. Irwin is conducting bio-behavioral research investigating the impact of physical activity, diet, and weight loss on breast cancer survivorship. Her findings may ultimately lead to fewer breast cancer recurrences and deaths.
Current investigation: She and her colleagues are examining the impact of exercise and nutrition on changes in breast cancer biomarkers (measured in blood and breast tissue), adherence to chemotherapy and endocrine (anti-estrogen) therapy, body composition (the ratio of muscle, bone and fat), and quality of life in women diagnosed with breast cancer.
What she’s learned so far: Dr. Irwin’s research has shown that both weight loss and exercise favorably change biomarkers related to breast cancer, such as the inflammatory marker, C-reactive protein. It has also showed that exercise can reduce the side effect of aromatase inhibitor treatment.
What’s next: She and her team will continue to investigate the biological underpinnings of exercise and weight loss for breast cancer prevention.
Melinda L. Irwin, PhD, MPH is a tenured professor at the Yale School of Public Health and co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Research Program at Yale Cancer Center. Dr. Irwin's primary research interests are physical activity, weight and cancer prevention and control. Her breast cancer research focuses on the impact of exercise and weight loss trials on breast tissue and serum biomarkers, as well as the impact of exercise on improving adherence to aromatase inhibitors (AIs) in breast cancer survivors. She is also examining the dissemination of her Lifestyle, Exercise, and Nutrition (LEAN) weight loss intervention in breast cancer survivors via a mail- and video-based intervention. Dr. Irwin is an investigator on the NCI-funded Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer (TREC) Initiative. Dr. Irwin has published extensively on related topics, and has also served on various review and advisory committees for the NCI, American Cancer Society and Livestrong Foundation.