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Lynne Eldridge MD

Soy Intake and Lung Cancer Risk in Women

By February 1, 2013

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I was reminded by a salivating reader that I'd stopped writing her favorite weekly column. Lung Cancer Foodie Friday. Each Friday I would share a recipe that may either help with lung cancer prevention (or prevention of recurrence), or help ease the side effects of lung cancer treatments (such as those nasty chemotherapy induced mouth sores and taste changes.)


So... Foodie Friday returns today with the topic of soy.

Health benefits of soy have been said to include a positive effect on high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis, and memory. There has been a lot of controversy about the intake of soy and breast cancer. But what about lung cancer? Thankfully lung cancer hasn't been a forgotten disease in this realm, and research is now looking at the possible benefits of dietary soy for lung cancer prevention, as well as it's role during lung cancer treatment.

Researchers looked at over 70,000 women in the Shanghai Women's Health Study who had been questioned about their soy intake. Over a period of roughly 9 years, 370 of these women developed lung cancer. Interestingly, 340 of the women were never smokers. After controlling for other variables, they found that soy intake was inversely proportional to the development of lung cancer; women who were in the highest quintile of soy intake were 37% less likely to develop lung cancer than those in the lowest quintile. The benefit appeared to be greatest for women who had a later age of menopause and for aggressive lung cancers. An analysis of other studies also found that non-smoking women with the highest consumption of soy and isoflavones had a lower risk of developing lung cancer. The conclusion is that soy may lower the risk of lung cancer - at least for non-smoking women and those with EGFR mutations.

Other research also seems to be giving a thumbs up for soy.

A study on people with non-small cell lung cancer undergoing radiation therapy found that soy appeared to make lung cancer tissue more sensitive to the radiation, while at the same time having a protective effect on normal lung tissue. Other studies have also found that soy seems to make cancer tissue more sensitive to radiation.

Another recent study suggests that soy products may play a role in inhibiting angiogenesis (at least in early studies in the lab.) Angiogenesis is a long word used to describe the formation of new blood vessels. Tumors need to form new blood vessels to grow, and if this growth is inhibited, the tumor can't grow.

Okay. But what exactly is soy? What foods are we talking about?

Examples of soy products include soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, tamari, and soy milk for starters.

Adding soy to your diet is easier than you may think. My kids love edamame and eat it like they would potato chips. I defrost the pods on the counter, add some kosher salt, and they vanish (the peas not the pods, you don't eat the pods.) I love it that they enjoy a treat that's healthy, and have to admit I get a case of the giggles as I hear stories of my children's friends parents saying "what?" and searching the grocery store aisles for something many have never heard of.

Today's Lung Cancer Foodie Friday recipe, and one that is kid friendly, comes compliments of Jolinda Hackett, our About.com Guide to Vegetarian Food:

Are you interested in learning more about cooking with soy? Our About.com Guide to Dairy Free Cooking , Ashley Adams, shares these ideas:

And if you're interested in learning more about lung cancer prevention (it goes beyond not smoking), check out these tips:

Photo: flickr.com, user Vegan Feast Catering


Hillman, G. et al. Soy isoflavones radiosensitize lung cancer while mitigating normal tissue injury. Radiotherapy and Oncology. 2011. 101(2):329-36.

Hillman, G., and V. Singh-Gupta. Soy isoflavones sensitize cancer cells to radiotherapy. Free Radical Biology and Medicine. 2011. 51(2):289-98.

Lee, S. et al. Glyceollins, a novel class of soy phytoalexins, inhibit angiogenesis by blocking the VEGF and bFGF signaling pathways. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research. 2013. 57(2):225-34.

Matsuo, K. et al. Soy consumption reduces the risk of non-small-cell lung cancers with epidermal growth factor receptor mutations among Japanese. Cancer Science. 2008. 99(6):1202-8.

Yang, G. et al. Soy Food Intake and Risk of Lung Cancer: Evidence From the Shangai Women's Health Study and a Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2012 Oct 24. (Epub ahead of print).

Yang, G. et al. Soy intake is associated with lower lung cancer risk: results from a meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2011. 94(6):1575-83.

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