Rarely a day goes by where we don’t get an email from a woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer who is worried about whether she should be eating soy products.

But as is being a widely reported today, a new study has found that women with breast cancer who ate soy had a decreased risk of death and recurrence.

Attention was first directed at soy when researchers began looking for an explanation for why women living in Asia had lower breast cancer rates than women living in the U.S., and noticed the vast differences in soy consumption. This was when we began hearing that eating soy could reduce breast cancer risk, and when many women began staring to eat tofu, drinking soymilk, and using soy supplements.

But as scientists began to  conduct laboratory studies to look for reasons why soy might decrease breast cancer risk, they found that when genistein, which is a type of isoflavone, was added to breast cancer cells they grew faster. Soon after, it was suggested that women who were taking tamoxifen and other anti-estrogens should avoid soy because they acted like weak estrogens, and could potentially counteract the tamoxifen or increase a woman’s risk of recurrence.

Almost over night, soy moved from the “good” column to the “bad.” Now a new study has shown that all of that concern was probably misplaced.

This new study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association was conducted in Shanghai, China. The participants were 5042 women who were taking part in the Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival Study.  After following the women for four years, the researchers found that the higher a woman’s soy protein or soy isoflavone intake, the lower her risk of having a breast cancer recurrence or dying from the disease. This was true regardless of whether women had ER-positive or ER-negative tumors, whether or not they were taking tamoxifen, and whether they were pre- or postmenopausal.  Although not studied, it is likely to be true for women on aromatase inhibitors as well.

As the investigators and the authors of an editorial that accompanied the study point out, there are differences in the Asian and American diet, especially when it comes to soy. Asian women are more likely to eat whole soy foods, like cooked soybeans, edamame, tofu, miso, and soy milk, whereas women in the U.S. tend to eat more processed foods that contain soy—but at much lower levels.

This is additional evidence that women in the U.S. with breast cancer can feel even better about adding whole soy foods to their diet. To be sure, we need more studies in women to confirm this finding. But a study of this size that has been so well done and that shows no negative effects clearly suggests that eating soy will not increase your risk of a recurrence and that, in fact, it might even reduce it!

This study tells us something else. We can’t over simplify the science.  Soy is not a phytoestrogen but rather a “phytoSERM,” more like tamoxifen than estrogen. And we cannot automatically extrapolate from studies on cells and rats to women.   Women’s bodies are more complicated and the animal data does not always translate.

This is why the Love/Avon Army of Women is so important! It allows researchers to conduct studies on women so that we can learn more about what happens in women’s bodies and get the answers we need faster!

There have been lots of studies that have looked at the effect of soy in cells and laboratory animals. But this was only the second study ever done that studied the effect of soy in women with breast cancer!!! The second!  Join the Army of Women and be part of changing the paradigm of science.  Be part of finding the answers and stopping  breast cancer once and for all.

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39 Responses to Rethinking Soy

  1. Laurie Bochner says:

    I am always concerned when I see studies recommending soy for American women/breast cancer survivors who did not grow up (go through puberty) eating soy based on research that has used Asian women who have eaten soy throughout their lifetime. I don’t think adding soy to your diet in mid-life is the same thing as eating soy while you’re maturing and developing breast tissue, etc.

  2. Anne V. says:

    Tamoxifen is also a weak estrogen, and apparently is useful as a receptor blocker, but only when used for just 5 years. After that, it apparently can actually increase the tendency of breast cancer to proliferate. Perhaps the weak estrogen in soy products is only helpful for a limited time, or in a limited amount, or on specific types of breast cancer cells? Who knows? Its all just a crap shoot at this point in time.

  3. Nansea Levy says:

    Asians who eat a lot of soy do not do what Americans do. Americans tend to think that is a little is good, lots is even better. My traditional medicine Chinese doctors, who have been crucial to keeping me going through my breast cancer treatment, have always warned me not to eat tofu more than 3 times a week because it is hard on the digestive system, and to eat white rice rather than brown for the same reason. Other fermented (partly predigested) products like soy sauce and tamari, and miso can be added in small amounts more often. Edamami (fresh whole soybeans) needs to be fully cooked, not half raw. And these products are added to a type of diet that has other important characteristics, like a light but nutrition rich soup for breakfast. Soy milk is not drunk in large glass fulls, and. etc. I’m seeing more soy sensitivities – my mother had 6 months of diarrhea from soy, aggravated repeatedly by hidden soy in everything, until she became afraid to eat. It’s under control now but she can’t eat most breads, salad dressings and prepared foods and mixes, even vitamins, because they contain soy oil, protein, lecithin, etc. If wome look at their diet they may find they are already ingested a great deal of soy – but not necessarily much isoflavones. Ladies, please eat responsibly.

  4. Karen says:

    This is all very frustrating…I feel that one should go with their gut on these types of studies.
    I find it very hard to hear Susan say “we have no clue as to what causes breast cancer”.
    I am a year survivor and I can hardly read all this information as it changes from time to time. Faith and hope and keeping yourself in good shape is the way to go for. Take good care of yourself! I know before I got breast cancer…I didn’t!

  5. debra weber says:

    I find it difficult to believe anything anymore. Where did the 5 years of tamoxiphen number come from? Research or fierce lobbying by the drug company that makes it? I’ve been taking it for 5 weeks and don’t think I will make it for 5 years. I’m convinced it’s poison.

  6. Mary says:

    Does anybody ever think that the reason the Asians don’t get breast cancer is because they don’t eat dairy? In the USA, there’s dairy in everything. Somebody needs to look into this. Cows milk has a lot of hormones in it.

  7. Barb says:

    I think it is important to note that something like 75% of soy in the U.S. is genetically modified. Unfortunately, I feel our soy is of less quality than that of China and Japan. “Thanks” to the good ol’ FDA for allowing this. Genetically modified foods are banned in many European countries. The last thing our bodies, especially our breasts, need is genetic modification. I would think it important, if you are going to eat soy, to make sure it is organic and not genetically modified.

  8. Dawn Doty says:

    Diana Dyer MD – 3 time cancer survivor, 2 of those Breast Cancer, second Breast Cancer Stage 4. That was about 14 years ago and being a practicing dietitian totally renovated her diet and eats soy everyday and some salmon through the week. She has a website http://www.dianadyermd.com and a book you can get on Amazon. I have personally met her and use her for my guide with the soy. I have been doing Revival Soy drinks, one a day, for 12 years…that has been since my journey with Stage 2, invasive, hormone positive, one lymph node breast cancer. The shakes also help with the hot flashes. Notice if I ever miss two in a row I have a terrible time with them! I am totally on with the soy but not the supplements. Check out her book and diet. Very interesting!

  9. Julia says:

    Data sets have been inconclusive for Western BC survivors for some time. There’s also problem with GMO soy. So why even take a risk unless you just love soy/tofu, which I don’t. I’ve found almond and hazelnut milk to be tastier and healthier! Also coconut “milk yogurt.’My problem as an ER+ survivor is avoiding soy lecithin; it’s in everything.

  10. Sandi says:

    As a one year survivor of occult breast cancer with three positive nodes and reading everything I could, I am almost convinced that breast cancer must be viral, and not really related to our diet.
    If it was, would not we know SOMETHING for sure after all this time and research?? I still am avoiding soy, and soy lecithin, (which you are right Julia – it is in everything,) as well as red meat. I had no risk factors and am normal weight, never did eat a lot of junk.
    I just don’t get it. I hope someday we will.

  11. Lisa G. says:

    I am interested in this research. I am a one-year survivor, double-matectomy, DCIS, two tumors, one with necrosis. My daughter, who I worry about, is a vegetarian and eats massive amounts of soy. I look forward to learning more about this topic.

  12. Jennifer Glick says:

    I’m a nine-year survivor of Stage II invasive ductile carcinoma. At the time of my cancer development, age 46, I was eating tofu and taking soy isoflavins in pill form every day. So I’m not sure if it helped or hurt. My cancer was ER+65%/PR+95%. So while I eat some soy burgers, I don’t do tofu, or soymilk, and I won’t until more data are in. I do whenever possible, and when I can afford it, choose low-fat or fat-free organic or rbgh free dairy products. It’s expensive, but it’s cheaper than cancer.

    Instead of looking at anything as the final end-all, like soy, there are other things over which you have power that can prevent recurrence. I’ve found for me that basing my diet on fruits and veggies, omega rich fish (I lived on salmon when going through eight rounds of chemo), free range eggs, and low-fat cheese. I get a half hour of aerobic exercise a day six days a week. I try to keep my weight down. I took tamoxifan for five years; now I’m on femara for another five. I don’t know if this has helped me. All I know is that I’m still cancer-free and feel wonderful.

  13. denise mack says:

    I have a hard time believing anything coming from a Chinese study being safe . can we believe them after the baby food formula and dog food poisioning. let me hear it from our medical experts.

  14. Regardless of a study isolating for breast cancer, there are many other reasons why soy is not good for you, as documented in many scientific studies also. And, as I always say, I wonder who funded the study? Please check out my information site about it. Soy is the root cause of much digestive upset.

  15. Annie Ory says:


    As a thinking, intuitive and healthy person (not a cancer survivor by the way) in my 40s and planning to care for my health for a long, long time, I am interested in the arguments that you each make for and against each product/drug/treatment/additive and so on. It all feels a bit extreme.

    Yes, some people are allergic to soy products just as some people are allergic to the glue in band aids and some people are allergic to cats and some people are allergic to strawberries. That doesn’t make these things bad for all people. As for additives in food, if I had been seriously ill – actually I do this anyway – I would avoid ALL PROCESSED FOODS. Why, oh why, would you put that garbage into your body?

    Forget, just for a moment about breast cancer. Think for that moment about general health. Read Michael Pollan’s work on food and consider taking on his manifesto, EAT FOOD, NOT TOO MUCH, MOSTLY VEGETABLES. He emphasizes that the definition of FOOD is decidedly not the over processed, treated, hormone enhanced, sugar filled, palm oil/soy oil/corn oil garbage sold to Americans today by factory farming conglomerates. Eat organic yogurt, eat oatmeal, eat organic locally grown produce and derivatives (like tofu) in a balanced way. When a study says soy = good for you don’t eat a pound of soy a day, add a reasonable amount of soy to your diet and make sure it is locally grown organic soy. When you have done this part, pay attention to your body, which is unique and can not be defined in any study, because of none of those women is you. If your body doesn’t do well with soy eat something else. Soy doesn’t upset my digestion. Soy doesn’t make me sick. Of course I don’t take soy supplements or pills or eat anything with soy oil or lecithin in it. I buy and prepare all my food local, organic and fresh. I eat better but I also enjoy my food more. My diet is balanced and my body is responding in a positive way.

    The most interesting study I read recently talked about today’s Americans being the most fearful people in the history of the planet. American middle class people report being more fearful, of everything, than people living in Kabul where there are daily suicide bombings. What are we so afraid of? We need to stop reading all this stuff and just get back to living.


  16. Marsha Krieger says:

    what about legumes?
    I have read that they might be a problem too
    aren’t they phytoestrogens?
    what do the studies say?

  17. Deena Weinstein says:

    I was told many years ago that women should avoid soy in a raw/cold form. Heated as in stir fry or soup is okay. I avoid soy milk, prefer almond milk,and rice milk is okay. I am a bc survivor of six years. I have always believed that everything in moderation is best. My biggest concern is the environment and genetically modified/engineered foods, which (as was pointed out) is how most soy beans in this country (not to mention other foods)are grown. I also don’t trust anything that comes out of China, be it food, clothing, or most of what we now import. It’s getting very difficult to shop!!
    Happy Holidays and may the new year have us discovering some answers and finding our way making our world a healthier place to live!

  18. I had triple negative breast cancer, underwent a double mastectomy, refused radiation and chemo. I was a vegetarian and I was healthy. After questioning how in the world I got breast cancer, I decided that I had to figure out how/why and started doing EXTENSIVE research. It is not one simple thing, but a combination of factors, all creating the “perfect storm”. I had to look back 5-10 years, when my cancer had most likely started at my diet and likestyle. Yes I was a vegetarian, but not a healthy one. Just because it’s not meat doesn’t make it healthy. I never ate processed or fast food, and rarely ate at restaurants. I bought organic dairy and fruits and veggies. BUT, I did eat refined sugars (like white pastas, white rice, homemade cookies, etc.) and lots of dairy. I also had some symptoms of hormonal imbalance (uterine fibroid tumors) and iodine deficiency (fibrocystic breasts). I was also a little low on vitamin D. I worked 24/7 and has a stressful job (I own my own business.) So ALL of those things contributed to my breast cancer.

    What has all of my research taught me? 1) That the most important thing in almost all disease prevention is to GREATLY reduce (eliminate is best) all animal protein from your diet. Dairy has a protein called Casein that promotes (does not cause—but feeds)
    cancer—all cancers.
    2) Take vitamin D supplements (better yet have your vitamin D levels tested. Low levels are linked to MS, breast cancer, osteoporosis.
    3) Have your Iodine levels tested (24 hour urine test—not a thyroid test). Low Iodine (which most of us have) creates an environment for cancer (breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men) to metastasize. High Iodine levels is one reason Asian women have low breast cancer rates.
    4) have your hormones tested. Imbalanced can be safely corrected with BIOIDENTICAL (not synthetic) hormones. Progesterone deficiency is a common link to bresat cancer.

    Those are the 4 big ones—then don’t worry about soy. If you have digestive problems with soy, that could mean you have a digestive enzyme issue. By-the-way, in ancient China only fermented soy was eaten.

    Author, Empowered, A Woman-to-Woman Guide to Preventing and Surviving Breast Cancer

  19. Van Pischke says:

    Hi,Excellent blog dude! i’m Tired of using RSS feeds and do you use twitter?so i can follow you there:D.
    PS:Have you thought to be putting video to your blog to keep the readers more entertained?I think it works.Best regards, Van Pischke

  20. Burlene Krider says:

    Just an FYI, the China study regarding soy intake and lower breast cancer recurrences was partially funded by the soy industry.

  21. Charlotte says:

    To Annie Ory: Not having had breast cancer yourself maybe you’re not aware of what it means to have estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer. Simply put, these tumours grow and are fed by taking in estrogen from the host body. It’s the reason why I take Femera, it’s a hormonal treatment. The idea is to eliminate any possible estrogen that might feed tumour cells. I haven’t eaten soy since I’ve had Breast Cancer . The last thing in the world I’d do is jeopardize the letrozole treatment (side effects are brutal) by consuming something I don’t even like much.

    To Shelli Elinwood: The idea of turning down treatment that’s proven to work is scary to me – I hope you’ll do alright; I send my blessings. I agree that we do not know precisely what effects soy has on ER+ cancer but to be safe I stay away from it and I sure as heck wouldn’t be talking on additional hormones – bioidentical or otherwise. I too wondered how in heck I got cancer then realized from my research that not having children put me in the same risk category as if I had a mother or sister (1st degree relative) with b.c. That’s a bummer getting ripped off in the motherhood department, then ‘paying’ for that with breast cancer.

    To everyone else: I have taken Femera for 4+ years. The bone/joint pain is brutal and I have brittle bones (have fractured a rib, broke a toe) but I only have 7 months to go! When I’m finished I’ll be able to build some of that bone back through weight-bearing exercise. Eating healthy food is good – don’t eat soya – but my number one piece of advice: Get out there and exercise! Find a sport, a team, a yoga class – anything – & you will feel better, look better, and you will make your whole body – including your cells – stronger so you can fight the creepy beast that is breast cancer!

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    Synthetic progesterones, like Provera or medroxyprogesterone, can produce severe side effects including increased risk of cancer, abnormal menstrual flow, fluid retention, nausea, depression and can even increase risk of heart disease and stroke. de effects are extremely rare with natural progesterone. The only one of concern is that it can potentially alter the timing of your menstrual cycle.,;-..

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