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Neil Iyengar, MD
Assistant Member and Attending Physician,
Breast Medicine Service
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Associate Attending Physician, The Rockefeller University
New York, New York
Goal: To identify lifestyle interventions that will reduce the liklihood of developing breast cancer in women at high risk of the disease.
Impact: Dr. Iyengar is conducting studies to understand the role obesity and breast inflammation play in breast cancer risk and outcome. His work could lead to personalized prevention strategies and improved outcomes in those who do develop breast cancer.
What’s next: Dr. Iyengar will conduct two related studies, one exercise study in overweight/obese patients with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) and one diet intervention study in early-stage breast cancer patients taking hormone therapy.
Obesity is a well-established risk factor for breast cancer. However, some women who are at a healthy weight are also at increased risk of the disease because they have a high level of body fat. Dr. Iyengar aims to develop more precise ways to identify those with low-grade inflammation in the breast—a consequence of having too much body fat—and develop diet and exercise interventions that will reduce the risk of breast cancer and improve outcomes in these women.
Full Research Summary
Research area: To better understand how lifestyle factors like obesity promote breast cancer risk and progression.
Impact: Obesity increases the risk of several chronic diseases, most notably type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It is also a risk factor for several types of cancer including breast cancer that occurs after menopause. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise can both reduce the risk of breast cancer and improve outcomes and quality of life after a breast cancer diagnosis. Less is known about the effect of these lifestyle behaviors on breast tissue to prevent breast cancer and breast cancer recurrence. The goal of Dr. Iynegar’s BCRF research is to develop precise methods for identifying women at risk of breast cancer and interventions to improve outcomes after breast cancer diagnosis.
Current research: Dr. Iynegar continues his ongoing studies, focusing this year on interventions to reverse the effects of energy imbalances associated with obesity.
What they’ve learned so far: In previous studies, Dr. Iynegar and his colleagues showed that breast inflammation associated with obesity increases the risk of ER-positive breast cancer and that breast cancer patients with breast inflammation have a worse outcome. They further showed that as many as one-third of healthy weight women harbor inflammatory lesions in fat tissue that increase their risk of breast cancer.
What’s next: In the coming year, they will conduct 2 intervention studies: 1) a phase I study of exercise therapy in patients with metastatic breast cancer, and 2) a phase II study of plant-based diet and exercise in patients on hormone therapy for early stage breast cancer.
Neil Iyengar is a medical oncologist and clinical-translational researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC). He is an Assistant Attending Physician in the Breast Medicine Service at MSKCC and also holds a joint research appointment at the Rockefeller University as an Associate Attending. He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago. He complete residency training in Internal Medicine at the University of Chicago followed by fellowship in medical oncology and hematology at MSKCC. His research has been supported by grant awards from several organizations including Young Investigator Awards from the Conquer Cancer Foundation and from Expedition Inspiration, as well as awards from the NCCN, the American Association for Cancer Research, and others. He has been invited to speak at international meetings and he has published several peer reviewed articles.
Together with BCRF grantees Dr. Clifford Hudis (MSKCC) and Dr. Andrew Dannenberg (Weill Cornell Medical College), Dr. Iyengar steers the multi-institutional Obesity & Cancer Working Group – a highly productive translational research team that includes basic scientists, clinicians, epidemiologists, exercise physiologists, and other experts. Dr. Iyengar specifically studies the role of metabolic health and inflammation in the development and progression of breast and several other cancers. Given the rising rates of obesity worldwide, Dr. Iyengar and his team are working to develop feasible and highly-targeted preventive and treatment strategies aimed at adipose tissue inflammation, which are poised to have a broad public health impact.