Introduction: Phytoestrogens are a group of compounds found in plants that structurally resemble the hormone oestradiol, and thus have the potential to act as oestrogen agonists or antagonists. Their potential effects may alter the risk of breast cancer, but only a limited range of phytoestrogens has been examined in prospective cohort studies.
Methods: Serum and urine samples from 237 incident breast cancer cases and 952 control individuals (aged 45 to 75 years) in the European Prospective into Cancer-Norfolk cohort were analysed for seven phytoestrogens (daidzein, enterodiol, enterolactone, genistein, glycitein, o-desmethylangolensin, and equol) using liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry. Data on participants' diet, demographics, anthropometrics, and medical history were collected upon recruitment. All models were adjusted for weight, fat and energy intake, family history of breast cancer, social class, analytical batch, and factors related to oestrogen exposure.
Results: Urinary or serum phytoestrogens were not associated with protection from breast cancer in the European Prospective into Cancer-Norfolk cohort. Breast cancer risk was marginally increased with higher levels of total urinary isoflavones (odds ratio = 1.08 (95% confidence interval = 1.00 to 1.16), P = 0.055); among those with oestrogen receptor-positive tumours, the risk of breast cancer was increased with higher levels of urinary equol (odds ratio = 1.07 (95% confidence interval = 1.01 to 1.12), P = 0.013).
Conclusion: There was limited evidence of an association between phytoestrogen biomarkers and breast cancer risk in the present study. There was no indication of decreased likelihood of breast cancer with higher levels of phytoestrogen biomarkers, but the observation that some phytoestrogen biomarkers may be associated with greater risk of breast cancer warrants further study with greater statistical power.