Titles and Affiliations

Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Epidemiology
Associate Dean of Research
Associate Cancer Center Director, Population Sciences,
Yale Cancer Center
Deputy Director of Public Health, Yale Center for Clinical Investigation
Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut

Research area

Understanding how lifestyle factors such as weight and exercise impact the risk of breast cancer and outcomes of breast cancer treatment. 


Obesity increases the risk of breast cancer in older women as well as 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 studies focused on exercise and nutrition-associated 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. 

Progress Thus Far

Dr. Irwin has shown that both weight loss and exercise favorably change biomarkers (measured in the blood and tissues) related to breast cancer, such as the inflammatory marker, C-reactive protein. In addition, exercise can reduce the side effects of aromatase inhibitor (an anti-estrogen medicine) treatment.  In the last year, with BCRF funding, her team completed accrual into a clinical trial of nutrition and exercise in women receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer. Her team has also published clinically meaningful findings showing that a genetic predisposition to obesity does not modify one’s ability to lose weight by a nutrition and exercise intervention. 

What's next

She and her team will continue to examine clinically important outcomes and how lifestyle behaviors may improve chemotherapy toxicity and other treatment-related side effects. They will also continue to evaluate changes in biomarkers such as those for immune function and those that indicate oxidative stress.  Her continued work has the potential to inform the development of personalized lifestyle prescriptions to improve breast cancer outcomes.


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.

BCRF Investigator Since