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Int J Cancer. 2008 Feb 1;122(3):705-10.

A prospective study of vegetarianism and isoflavone intake in relation to breast cancer risk in British women.

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Cancer Research UK, Cancer Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford, Oxford OX3 7LF, United Kingdom.


Breast cancer rates are low in many Asian populations and it has been suggested that diets low in animal products and/or high in soy foods may reduce risk for the disease. However, findings from epidemiological studies are equivocal. We investigated the relationships of a vegetarian diet and isoflavone intake with breast cancer risk in a cohort of 37,643 British women participating in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, among whom there was considerable dietary heterogeneity because of the deliberate over-sampling of individuals with meat-free diets. Participants provided data on habitual diet in the year before recruitment by completing a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ). Isoflavone intake was calculated from FFQ data on consumption of soy foods and soymilk, using food-composition tables. (There were precisely 585 breast cancer cases.) 585 women were diagnosed with breast cancer during 7.4 years of follow-up. 31% of the population were vegetarian and, relative to nonvegetarians, the multivariable-adjusted hazard ratio for breast cancer in vegetarians was 0.91 (95% CI 0.72-1.14). With the lowest intake group as the reference (median intake 0.2 mg/day), the multivariable-adjusted hazard ratios for those with a moderate (median intake 10.8 mg/day) or high intake of isoflavones (median intake 31.6 mg/day) were 1.08 (95% CI 0.85-1.38) and 1.17 (0.79-1.71), respectively. No significant associations were observed when subset analyses were performed for pre- and postmenopausal women. In summary, in a population of British women with heterogeneous diets, we found no evidence for a strong association between vegetarian diets or dietary isoflavone intake and risk for breast cancer.

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