Phytoestrogen intake of US women does not reduce breast cancer risk


WESTPORT, CT (Reuters Health) – While several epidemiologic studies involving Asian populations have suggested that phytoestrogen consumption may lower the risk of breast cancer, levels of phytoestrogens commonly consumed by non-Asian women in the USA do not appear to protect against the disease.

In a study reported in the September 1st issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, Dr. Pamela L. Horn-Ross from the Northern California Cancer Center in Union City and colleagues compared the phytoestrogen intake of 1326 women who developed breast cancer with that of 1657 women randomly selected from the general population.

The breast cancer group included African-American, Latina, and White US women, 35 to 79 years of age, who were diagnosed between 1995 and 1998, the authors report.

The researchers found no correlation between total phytoestrogen intake and breast cancer risk: the odds ratio was 1.0 for the highest versus lowest quartiles of intake.

This lack of association held true even after considering the woman's menopausal status, ethnic background, and the type of phytoestrogen consumed. Soy milk and soy burger consumption was linked to a reduced risk of breast cancer, but only a small percentage of case and control subjects consumed these products.

The highest average intake of phytoestrogens in the study population was "only 3 mg/day, a level equivalent to less than one serving of tofu per week," the investigators note. "In contrast, the average intake of phytoestrogens in Asian countries has been estimated to range from about 15 to 30 mg/day," they point out. Thus, it is possible that non-Asian US women are not reaching a level of intake that may reduce the risk of breast cancer.

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