Early intake appears to be the key to the proposed protective effects of soy intake against breast cancer

Nutr Cancer. 2009;61(6):792-8. doi: 10.1080/01635580903285015.


There is a large variation in breast cancer incidence and mortality rates worldwide. Migration studies have indicated that this variation is primarily the result of lifestyle influences. Although there has been much research conducted, definitively identifying dietary factors that impact breast cancer risk has proven difficult. In part this may be because most clinical and epidemiologic studies have focused on adult dietary exposure. However, evidence suggests that childhood and/or adolescence is the period of life when the breast is most sensitive to dietary influences. Further, the available epidemiologic and animal data suggest that early soy intake reduces breast cancer risk. Soy foods are unique dietary sources of isoflavones, diphenolic compounds that exert estrogen-like effects under certain experimental conditions. The protection effects of soy may result from the soybean isoflavones stimulating differentiation of the breast in much the same way that the elevated estrogen levels do during pregnancy. More specifically, in rats, the primary isoflavone genistein reduces mammary tumorigenesis and increases mammary tissue differentiation by leading to a reduction in the number of terminal end buds (TEB) and an increase in the number of differentiated lobules. There is need and justification for continued investigation of the early soy intake hypothesis, particularly to determine the cellular targets of soy action and to identify the signaling pathways mediating the effects on mammary gland morphology and susceptibility to breast cancer.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Adult
  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Breast / metabolism
  • Breast / physiopathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Child
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Diet*
  • Female
  • Genistein / pharmacology
  • Genistein / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Isoflavones / administration & dosage*
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / chemically induced
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / genetics
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / physiopathology
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / prevention & control
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Mice
  • Phytoestrogens / administration & dosage*
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Risk
  • Soy Foods* / analysis
  • Soybeans / chemistry


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Isoflavones
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Genistein