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J Nutr. 2001 Nov;131(11 Suppl):3095S-108S.

Soy for breast cancer survivors: a critical review of the literature.

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  • 1Nutrition Matters, Inc., Port Townsend, WA 98368, USA.


A variety of health benefits, including protection against breast cancer, have been attributed to soy food consumption, primarily because of the soybean isoflavones (genistein, daidzein, glycitein). Isoflavones are considered to be possible selective estrogen receptor modulators but possess nonhormonal properties that also may contribute to their effects. Concern has arisen over a possible detrimental effect of soy in breast cancer patients because of the estrogen-like effects of isoflavones. Genistein exhibits a biphasic effect on the growth of MCF-7 cells in vitro, stimulating proliferation at low concentrations but inhibiting it at high concentrations. In ovariectomized athymic mice implanted with MCF-7 cells, both genistein and soy protein stimulate tumor growth in a dose-dependent manner. In contrast, in intact mice fed estrogen, genistein inhibits tumor growth. Although two studies in premenopausal women suggested that soy exerts estrogenic-like effects on breast tissue, recently conducted year-long studies indicated that isoflavone supplements do not affect breast tissue density in premenopausal women and may decrease density in postmenopausal women. These latter effects are opposite to those of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Importantly, substantial data suggest that the progestogen, not the estrogen, component of HRT increases risk of developing breast cancer. Furthermore, recently conducted studies have failed to find that even HRT reduces survival in breast cancer patients. Overall, the data are not impressive that the adult consumption of soy affects the risk of developing breast cancer or that soy consumption affects the survival of breast cancer patients. Consequently, if breast cancer patients enjoy soy products, it seems reasonable for them to continue to use them.

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