Background: Phyto-oestrogens are a group of naturally occurring chemicals derived from plants; they have a structure similar to oestrogen, and form part of our diet. They also have potentially anticarcinogenic biological activity. We did a case-control study to assess the association between phyto-oestrogen intake (as measured by urinary excretion) and the risk of breast cancer.
Methods: Women with newly diagnosed early breast cancer were interviewed by means of questionnaires, and a 72 h urine collection and blood sample were taken before any treatment started. Controls were randomly selected from the electoral roll after matching for age and area of residence. 144 pairs were included for analysis. The urine samples were assayed for the isoflavonic phyto-oestrogens daidzein, genistein, and equol, and the lignans enterodiol, enterolactone, and matairesinol.
Findings: After adjustment for age at menarche, parity, alcohol intake, and total fat intake, high excretion of both equol and enterolactone was associated with a substantial reduction in breast-cancer risk, with significant trends through the quartiles: equol odds ratios were 1.00, 0.45 (95% CI 0.20, 1.02), 0.52 (0.23, 1.17), and 0.27 (0.10, 0.69)--trend p = 0.009--and enterolactone odds ratios were 1.00, 0.91 (0.41, 1.98), 0.65 (0.29, 1.44), 0.36 (0.15, 0.86)--trend p = 0.013. For most other phytoestrogens there was a reduction in risk, but it did not reach significance. Difficulties with the genistein assay precluded analysis of that substance.
Interpretation: There is a substantial reduction in breast-cancer risk among women with a high intake (as measured by excretion) of phyto-oestrogens-particularly the isoflavonic phyto-oestrogen equol and the lignan enterolactone. These findings could be important in the prevention of breast cancer.