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Melinda L. Irwin, PhD, MPH
Professor, Chronic Disease Epidemiology,
Yale School of Public Health
Deputy Director of Public Health, Yale Center for Clinical Investigation
Associate Director, Population Sciences, Yale Cancer Center
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.
The connection between obesity and breast cancer is well established. 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 improved aromatase inhibitor
(AI) side effects. 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 in order to develop more personalized lifestyle prescriptions for patients.
Impact: Obesity increases the risk of breast cancer in older women, and it also increases the risk of breast cancer recurrence. 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 on breast cancer survivorship. Her findings may ultimately lead to a lower risk of breast cancer recurrence and mortality.
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 therapy, body composition (changes in weight, lean mass, and bone mass), 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. She also showed that exercise improved aromatase inhibitor side effects in breast cancer survivors taking these drugs.
What’s next: She and her team will continue to investigate the biological underpinnings of exercise and weight loss in breast cancer prevention and outcome.
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.