Finding a Place for Exercise Oncology in the Treatment of Breast Cancer

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Neil M. Iyengar, MD, spoke about the potential impact of exercise on patient-reported outcomes in cancer and achieving work-life balance.

In a conversation with CancerNetwork® at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), Neil M. Iyengar, MD, spoke about developments and challenges in his career as a medical oncologist and clinical investigator as well as ongoing research efforts in improving outcomes among patients with breast cancer.

Iyengar, a breast oncologist in in the Department of Medicine at MSKCC and Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, New York, as well as the co–editor-in-chief of the journal ONCOLOGY®, detailed his work in the emerging field of exercise oncology. Based on preclinical data supporting the potential anti-tumor effects of exercise, he and his colleagues are organizing several clinical trials to validate whether exercise intervention can improve cancer-specific end points. Although some findings may support implementing exercise as part of a cancer treatment plan, Iyengar noted the observational and self-reported nature of the prior data and said that it would be necessary to test exercise intervention in the same way “you would develop any new drug for treating cancer.”

Additionally, Iyengar discussed the fulfillment of ensuring patient care, a passion that has fueled his interest in lifestyle interventions such as exercise oncology. He highlighted how his cancer treatment philosophy extends beyond the goal of reducing tumor volumes to safeguarding the patient’s physical and emotional well-being.

“You can certainly hammer away at a tumor and give all kinds of chemotherapy and anti-cancer therapies, but if that [patient] is feeling miserable and has no quality of life and a short duration of response to that therapy, that’s not necessarily the type of outcome that I would consider to be successful,” Iyengar said. “If you’re able to either control or cure a cancer while also improving a [patient’s] quality of life and general well-being, that’s the kind of outcome that I strive for. When I see that in my patients and in the patients of my colleagues, that certainly brings a lot of fulfillment.”

Iyengar also highlighted how he found excitement and passion in off-hours responsibilities to help achieve work-life balance. Looking ahead, he spoke about data on anti-estrogen agents, antibody drug conjugates, and other breast cancer treatment strategies that he is looking forward to hearing at the 2024 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting.

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