Phytoestrogens and breast cancer

J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2002 Dec;83(1-5):113-8. doi: 10.1016/s0960-0760(02)00273-x.


The role of phytoestrogens and consumption of phytoestrogen-rich foods such as soy containing isoflavones and whole grain products with lignans for the prevention of breast cancer is reviewed. It is concluded that soy-containing diet in adult women is not or only slightly protective with regard to breast cancer, but that it may be beneficial if consumed in early life before puberty or during adolescence supporting results of immigrant and epidemiological studies. No negative effects of soy on breast cancer have been observed. On the other hand, a diet low in lignans, resulting in a low plasma enterolactone concentration, increases risk both in a case-control and a prospective study, but some controversial results have also been obtained. Some of these results may be explained by the fact that the determinants of plasma or urinary enterolactone concentration are very different in different countries. In Scandinavia, the main determinants are whole grain cereal food, vegetables and berries. Whether the protective effect is caused by the phytoestrogens in the diet or whether they are only biomarkers of a healthy diet has not been established.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Diet
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isoflavones / chemistry
  • Lignans / metabolism
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Plant Preparations
  • Prospective Studies
  • Rats
  • Soybeans*


  • Biomarkers
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal
  • Isoflavones
  • Lignans
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Plant Preparations