While epidemiological studies performed in Asian countries generally show that high levels of dietary soy are associated with reduced breast cancer risk, studies in Western countries have typically failed to show this correlation. In an attempt to model the preventative actions of soy on mammary tumor development, rodent models have been employed. Thirty-four studies were identified that evaluated the impact of soy products or purified soy isoflavones on mammary tumor initiation (studies evaluating established mammary tumors or mammary tumor cell lines were not included) and these studies were separated into mammary tumors induced by chemical carcinogens or transgenic expression of oncogenes based on the timing of soy administration. Regardless of when soy-based diets or purified isoflavones were administered, no consistent protective effects were observed in either carcinogen-induced or oncogene-induced mammary tumors. While some studies demonstrated that soy or purified isoflavones could reduce mammary tumor incidence, other studies showed either no effect or tumor promoting effects of soy products or isoflavones. Most importantly, only five studies found a decrease in mammary tumor incidence and six studies observed a decrease in tumor multiplicity, two relevant measures of the tumor preventative effects of soy or isoflavones. The variable outcomes of the studies examined were not completely surprising given that few studies employed the same experimental design. Future studies should be carefully designed to more accurately emulate soy consumption observed in Asian cultures including lifetime exposure to less refined soy products and potentially the incorporation of multigenerational feeding studies.
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