Soy isoflavones and cancer prevention

Cancer Invest. 2003;21(5):744-57. doi: 10.1081/cnv-120023773.


Epidemiological studies have shown a significant difference in cancer incidence among different ethnic groups, which is believed to be partly attributed to dietary habits. The incidences of breast and prostate cancers are much higher in the United States and European countries compared with Asian countries such as Japan and China. One of the major differences in diet between these populations is that the Japanese and the Chinese consume a traditional diet high in soy products. Soy isoflavones have been identified as dietary components having an important role in reducing the incidence of breast and prostate cancers. Genistein, the predominant isoflavones found in soy, has been shown to inhibit the carcinogenesis in animal models. There are growing body of experimental evidence that show the inhibition of human cancer cells by genistein through the modulation of genes that are related to the control of cell cycle and apoptosis. Moreover, it has been shown that genistein inhibits the activation of NF-kappa B and Akt signaling pathways, both of which are known to maintain a homeostatic balance between cell survival and apoptosis. Genistein is commonly known as phytoestrogen, which targets estrogen- and androgen-mediated signaling pathways in the processes of carcinogenesis. Furthermore, genistein has been found to have antioxidant property, and shown to be a potent inhibitor of angiogenesis and metastasis. Taken together, both in vivo and in vitro studies have clearly shown that genistein, one of the major soy isoflavones, is a promising reagent for cancer chemoprevention and/or treatment. In this article, we attempt to provide evidence for these effects of genistein in a succinct manner to provide comprehensive state-of-the-art knowledge of the biological and molecular effects of the isoflavone genistein in cancer cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Chemoprevention*
  • Genistein / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Isoflavones / pharmacology*
  • NF-kappa B / physiology
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic
  • Signal Transduction


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Isoflavones
  • NF-kappa B
  • Genistein