Is Soy Consumption Good or Bad for the Breast?

Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057, USA.
Journal of Nutrition (Impact Factor: 3.88). 10/2010; 140(12):2326S-2334S. DOI: 10.3945/jn.110.124230
Source: PubMed


Genistein in soy activates estrogen receptor (ER)-α and ERβ and acts as an estradiol in multiple target tissues. Because estrogens increase breast cancer risk and genistein promotes the growth of ER-positive human breast cancer cells, it has remained unclear whether this isoflavone or soy is safe. Results reviewed here suggest that women consuming moderate amounts of soy throughout their life have lower breast cancer risk than women who do not consume soy; however, this protective effect may originate from soy intake early in life. We also review the literature regarding potential risks genistein poses for breast cancer survivors. Findings obtained in 2 recent human studies show that a moderate consumption of diet containing this isoflavone does not increase the risk of breast cancer recurrence in Western women, and Asian breast cancer survivors exhibit better prognosis if they continue consuming a soy diet. The mechanisms explaining the breast cancer risk-reducing effect of early soy intake or the protective effect in Asian breast cancer survivors remain to be established. We propose that the reduction in risk involves epigenetic changes that result in alterations in the expression of genes that regulate mammary epithelial cell fate, i.e. cell proliferation and differentiation. Lifetime soy consumption at a moderate level may prevent breast cancer recurrence through mechanisms that change the biology of tumors; e.g. women who consumed soy during childhood develop breast cancers that express significantly reduced Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 levels. More research is needed to understand why soy intake during early life may both reduce breast cancer risk and risk of recurrence.

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    • "Some researchers have suggested that soy isoflavones may act as a dietary estrogen by binding unoccupied estrogen receptors during conditions of low circulating endogenous estrogen to alleviate the symptoms of menopause of postmenopausal women.(10) However, epidemiological studies and experimental data suggest that soy isoflavones can be estrogenic and potentially increase risk of breast cancer.(11,12) Animal studies on soy isoflavones have generated conflicting data regarding the ability of reducing mammary tumorigenesis in different menopausal animals. "
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    ABSTRACT: Based on the hypothesis that soy food consumption may influence breast tissue activity, we examined its effect on the production of nipple aspirate fluid (NAF), a possible indicator of breast cancer risk. Of 310 premenopausal women screened, 112 (36%) produced at least 10 μL of NAF, the minimum for study participation. In a crossover design, we randomized 96 women to 2 groups who, in reverse order, consumed a high-soy diet with 2 soy servings/d (1 serving = 177 mL soy milk, 126 g tofu, or 23 g soy nuts) and a low-soy diet with <3 servings/wk of soy for 6 mo each separated by a 1-mo washout period. During each diet period, 3 NAF samples were obtained (baseline and 3 and 6 mo) using a FirstCyte Aspirator and 4 urine samples (baseline and 1, 3, and 6 mo) were analyzed for isoflavonoids by liquid chromatography tandem MS. Adherence to the study protocol according to 24-h dietary recalls and urinary isoflavonoid excretion was high. The drop-out rate was 15% (n = 14); 82 women completed the intervention. The 2 groups produced similar mean NAF volumes at baseline (P = 0.95) but differed in age and previous soy intake and in their response to the intervention (P = 0.03). In both groups, NAF volume decreased during the first 3 mo of the high-soy diet period and returned to baseline at 6 mo, but there was no effect of the high-soy diet on NAF volume (P = 0.50 for diet; P-interaction = 0.21 for diet with time). Contrary to an earlier report, soy foods in amounts consumed by Asians did not increase breast tissue activity as assessed by NAF volume.
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