Flaxseed and its lignan and oil components: can they play a role in reducing the risk of and improving the treatment of breast cancer?

Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2014 Jun;39(6):663-78. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2013-0420. Epub 2013 Dec 23.


Flaxseed (FS), rich in the phytoestrogen lignans and α-linolenic acid-rich oil, has been suggested to have an anticancer effect. Questions remain whether FS and its lignan and oil components are effective in reducing breast cancer risk and tumour growth, and can interact beneficially with breast cancer drugs. To find answers, in vitro, animal, observational, and clinical studies on FS and its lignan and oil components were reviewed. The majority of studies in various rodent models show that 2.5%-10% FS diet or the equivalent amount of lignan or oil reduces tumour growth. Ten percent FS and equivalent lignans do not interfere with but rather increase the effectiveness of tamoxifen (80 mg/day) while the 4% FS oil increases trastuzumab/Herceptin (2.5 mg/kg) effectiveness. Observational studies show that FS and lignan intake, urinary excretion, or serum levels are associated with reduced risk, particularly in postmenopausal women. Lignans reduce breast cancer and all-cause mortality by 33%-70% and 40%-53%, respectively, without reducing tamoxifen effectiveness. Clinical trials show that FS (25 g/day with 50 mg lignans; 32 days) reduces tumour growth in breast cancer patients and lignans (50 mg/day; 1 year) reduces risk in premenopausal women. Mechanisms include decreased cell proliferation and angiogenesis and increased apoptosis through modulation of estrogen metabolism and estrogen receptor and growth factor receptor signalling pathways. More clinical trials are needed but current overall evidence indicates that FS and its components are effective in the risk reduction and treatment of breast cancer and safe for consumption by breast cancer patients.

Keywords: acide α-linolénique; breast cancer; cancer du sein; chemoprevention; chimioprévention; drug–diet interaction; flaxseed; flaxseed oil; graine de lin; huile de graine de lin; interaction médicament-aliment; lignan; lignanes; α-linolenic acid.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diet therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug Interactions
  • Female
  • Flax*
  • Humans
  • Lignans / pharmacology*
  • Phytoestrogens / pharmacology*
  • Risk Factors
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid / pharmacology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Lignans
  • Phytoestrogens
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid