Phyto-oestrogens and breast cancer chemoprevention

Jane L Limer, Valerie Speirs

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

188 Citations (Scopus)


Phytoestrogens are polyphenol compounds of plant origin that exhibit a structural similarity to the mammalian steroid hormone 17beta-oestradiol. In Asian nations the staple consumption of phyto-oestrogen-rich foodstuffs correlates with a reduced incidence of breast cancer. Human dietary intervention trials have noted a direct relationship between phyto-oestrogen ingestion and a favourable hormonal profile associated with decreased breast cancer risk. However, these studies failed to ascertain the precise effect of dietary phyto-oestrogens on the proliferation of mammary tissue. Epidemiological and rodent studies crucially suggest that breast cancer chemoprevention by dietary phyto-oestrogen compounds is dependent on ingestion before puberty, when the mammary gland is relatively immature. Phyto-oestrogen supplements are commercially marketed for use by postmenopausal women as natural and safe alternatives to hormone replacement therapy. Of current concern is the effect of phyto-oestrogen compounds on the growth of pre-existing breast tumours. Data are contradictory, with cell culture studies reporting both the oestrogenic stimulation of oestrogen receptor-positive breast cancer cell lines and the antagonism of tamoxifen activity at physiological phyto-oestrogen concentrations. Conversely, phyto-oestrogen ingestion by rodents is associated with the development of less aggressive breast tumours with reduced metastatic potential. Despite the present ambiguity, current data do suggest a potential benefit from use of phyto-oestrogens in breast cancer chemoprevention and therapy. These aspects are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-27
Number of pages9
JournalBreast Cancer Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Asia
  • Breast Neoplasms
  • Child
  • Emigration and Immigration
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Estrogens
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Isoflavones
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental
  • Mice
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Neoplasms, Hormone-Dependent
  • Phytoestrogens
  • Plant Preparations
  • Postmenopause
  • Premenopause
  • Prevalence
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Signal Transduction
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • United States
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review


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