The role of early life genistein exposures in modifying breast cancer risk

A. Warri, N. M. Saarinen, S. Makela, L. Hilakivi-Clarke

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review

131 Scopus citations


Review of the existing literature suggests that consumption of soy foods or an exposure to a soy isoflavone genistein during childhood and adolescence in women, and before puberty onset in animals, reduces later mammary cancer risk. In animal studies, an exposure that is limited to the fetal period or adult life does not appear to have the same protective effect. A meta-analysis of human studies indicates a modest reduction in pre- and postmenopausal risk when dietary intakes are assessed during adult life. These findings concur with emerging evidence indicating that timing may be vitally important in determining the effects of various dietary exposures on the susceptibility to develop breast cancer. In this review, we address the mechanisms that might mediate the effects of an early life exposure to genistein on the mammary gland. The focus is on changes in gene expression, such as those involving BRCA1 and PTEN. It will be debated whether mammary stem cells are the targets of genistein-induced alterations and also whether the alterations are epigenetic. We propose that the effects on mammary gland morphology and signalling pathways induced by pubertal exposure to genistein mimic those induced by the oestrogenic environment of early first pregnancy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1485-1493
Number of pages9
JournalBritish Journal of Cancer
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 6 2008
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grants from NCI U54 CA0010097*0 (LHC and SM), NIEHS R21ES13858-3 (LHC) and the Academy of Finland (NMS).


  • Breast cancer
  • Epigenetic
  • Genistein
  • Mammary stem cell
  • Soy
  • Tumour suppressors


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