The association between soyfood intake and breast cancer risk is controversial. Most of the epidemiologic studies published on this topic in the 1990s were not designed to specifically address this question. We conducted a population-based, case-control study of breast cancer among Chinese, Japanese and Filipino women in Los Angeles County to further investigate the role of soy. Our primary objective was to quantify breast cancer risks associated with intake of soy during adolescence and adult life among Asian-American women. During 1995-1998, we successfully interviewed 501 breast cancer patients and 594 control subjects. Intake of soy among Asian-Americans is still relatively high; the median intake was 12 mg isoflavones/day, approximately one-third of that reported in a recent study in Shanghai, China. The risk of breast cancer was significantly inversely associated with soy intake during adolescence and adult life. After adjusting for age, specific Asian ethnicity, education, migration history and menstrual and reproductive factors, women who reported soy intake at least once per week during adolescence showed a statistically significantly reduced risk of breast cancer. There was also a significant trend of decreasing risk with increasing soy intake during adult life. When we considered soy intake during both adolescence and adult life, subjects who were high-soy consumers during both time periods showed the lowest risk (OR=0.53, 95% CI=0.36-0.78) compared with those who were low consumers during both time periods. Risk of breast cancer was intermediate among subjects who were high-soy consumers during adolescence and low-soy consumers during adult life (OR=0.77, 95% CI=0.51-1.10). Based on a relatively small number of subjects, the risk did not appear to differ between those who were low consumers during adolescence and high consumers during adult life. Results remained similar after adjustment for other potential confounders including other dietary and non-dietary risk factors for breast cancer. These results show that high soy intake in childhood in Asian-Americans is associated with reduced breast cancer risk. Risk may be further reduced by intake as an adult.