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Melinda L. Irwin, PhD, MPH

Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut

Titles and Affiliations

Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Epidemiology
Associate Dean of Research, Yale School of Public Health
Deputy Director, Yale Cancer Center
Deputy Director of Public Health, Yale Center for Clinical Investigation

Research area

Examining the effects of lifestyle interventions and how they can be integrated into a personalized care plan.


Higher levels of physical activity and adopting a high-quality diet have been associated with lower mortality in breast cancer patients. The physiological mechanisms behind this correlation, however, are currently unclear. These lifestyle factors are often impacted most during the first year after a breast cancer diagnosis and can often deteriorate during treatment. Therefore, intervening with improved nutrition and exercise regimens as well as weight management programs as soon as possible after diagnosis may have the biggest impact on breast cancer outcomes. Clinical trials and follow-up with the trial participants can further define the correlations between lifestyle and cancer outcomes and help elucidate potential mechanisms that may be involved.

Dr. Irwin’s work is focused on exercise and nutrition-associated changes in breast cancer biomarkers, adherence to cancer treatment and therapy, weight management, and quality of life in women diagnosed with breast cancer. She and her team design clinical trials that aim to answer questions on how changes to these lifestyle factors could be incorporated into standard cancer treatment to improve outcomes for those diagnosed with breast cancer.

Progress Thus Far

Dr. Irwin’s team has completed the first year of their phase III clinical trial, The Lifestyle, Exercise And Nutrition Early after Diagnosis (LEANer) Study, designed to test the effect of nutrition and physical activity intervention on chemotherapy and endocrine therapy adherence and completion, treatment side effects, changes in biomarkers, and patient-reported outcomes. This is one of the first studies to examine the effects of nutrition and exercise intervention at the start of chemotherapy and up to five years after diagnosis.

Dr. Irwin has found that participants in the lifestyle intervention group made improvements to their exercise and diet quality, but that these changes did not improve adherence to chemotherapy compared to the group who were provided the usual care. However, participants in the lifestyle intervention group were more likely to lack all signs of cancer in tissue samples removed from hormone receptive-positive/HER2-negative and triple-negative breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy before surgery.

What’s next

The team will continue to follow the trial participants at one-, two-, and five-year milestones to further understand the impact of intervention on diet, physical activity, immune, and metabolic biomarkers, and patient-reported outcomes. Additionally, they will evaluate the impact lifestyle intervention has on cognitive function, depression, and adherence to endocrine therapy among those taking aromatase inhibitors or tamoxifen, drugs that lower the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Dr. Irwin’s clinical trial findings could accelerate a shift in cancer care to include nutrition, exercise, and weight management services beginning at diagnosis.


Melinda L. Irwin, PhD, MPH is the Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Epidemiology and Associate Dean of Research at the Yale School of Public Health, Deputy Director of the Yale Cancer Center, and the Deputy Director of Public Health for the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation. Dr. Irwin is a prominent leader in cancer prevention and survivorship research: she is the principal investigator of 16 externally funded research projects in the last 19 years, serves on numerous national advisory boards related to cancer survivorship including co-chairing the national clinical trials network SWOG cancer survivorship committee, and is leading NCI-funded training programs to mentor and train the next generation of cancer researchers. The focus of her breast cancer research is on randomized controlled trials of the impact of exercise, diet, and weight loss on cancer biomarkers, treatment side effects and outcomes, and quality of life.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Westchester Women’s Award in Memory of Marla Mehlman