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Soy Supplements May Not Shield Against Breast Cancer

February 6, 2012


FRIDAY, Feb. 3 (HealthDay News) — Soy supplements do not protect
women against breast cancer, a new study suggests.

The findings are consistent with the results of previous studies that
examined the cancer prevention benefits of the dietary supplements, said
lead researcher Dr. Seema Khan, a professor of surgery at the Robert H.
LurieComprehensiveCancerCenter ofNorthwesternUniversity.

The study included 98 women who were randomly assigned to receive a
mixed soy isoflavones supplement or placebo. Isoflavones are components of
soy foods thought to have anti-estrogen activity (estrogen is “fuel” for
many breast cancers).

After six months, the researchers examined levels of Ki-67 — a protein
marker of cancer cell growth — in certain breast cancer cells taken from
the women. Overall, there were no differences in Ki-67 levels between
women who took the soy supplement and those who took the placebo.

However, the level of Ki-67 increased from 1.71 to 2.18 in
premenopausal women taking the soy supplement, which suggests the
supplement might even have a negative effect, according to the study
published in February issue of the journal Cancer Prevention

“This was a small finding,” Khan stressed in a news release from the
American Association for Cancer Research, “but one that should suggest

“Simply put, supplements are not food. Although soy-based foods appear
to have a protective effect, we are not seeing the same effect with
supplementation using isolated components of soy, so the continued testing
of soy supplements is likely not worthwhile,” Kahn concluded.

But one expert said the study, while valuable, had limitations.

Dr. Patrick Borgen, director of Breast Cancer Care Services at the
Maimonides Cancer Center in New York City, called the study “thought
provoking and well-executed.”

But he added that uncertainties remain. For example, the area of the
breast from which the cells were taken and studied matters, because cancer
develops in different ways across the geography of the breast.
Furthermore, other potential risk factors, such as diet, exercise, alcohol
intake and stress, could play a role in the women’s breast cancer risk as
well and “are extremely hard to control for in this kind of study,” Borgen

Finally, Borgen said, it is still difficult to predict the “long-term
consequences” of the cell changes captured by Ki-67 testing.

For all of those reasons, “the conclusions — that further study may
not be warranted or that use of these supplements in premenopausal women
may be dangerous — should therefore be taken in the context of the
limitations of the study,” Borgen said.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about soy.


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