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Soy and its effects on breast cancer


Should breast cancer patients avoid eating soy?  A recent study of the effects of soy on breast cancer mortality, published in the American Cancer Society’s 2017 Cancer journal, suggests that soy intake may not be anything to worry about – it could even be helpful for specific types of breast cancer!

Fang Fang Zhang, MD, PhD

Researcher Fang Fang Zhang, MD, PhD is an assistant professor at the Tufts University Freidman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. Dr. Zhang is a cancer epidemiologist with a background in exploring the role of nutrition and diet in cancer survivorship.  She is currently leading a multidisciplinary R01 project to evaluate population-based nutrition interventions on national cancer outcomes. Dr. Zhang’s work with nutrition stems from her interest in the modifiable factors of cancer care – in this case, diet.


Soy intake has been a bit of a controversial topic in breast cancer care. This particular study examined 6235 ethnically diverse women with breast cancer living in North America. The study concluded that a higher dietary intake of isoflavone (the major phytoestrogen in soy) was associated with reduced breast cancer mortality in patients with a specific kind of breast cancer. Dr. Zhang expressed excitement from herself and her team about these findings, as they have significant implications for the importance of diet and nutrition within cancer care.

Future Work

Dr. Zhang has ongoing research on overall diet quality of cancer patients, as well as possible policy repercussions. Following a recent study of adult cancer survivors and poor diet quality, Dr. Zhang is developing a PCORI project to build relationships with cancer survivors and various stakeholders to combat the many complex influences on cancer survivor’s diet. Dr. Zhang has worked with, and continues to work with, oncologists and dieticians from Tufts Medical Center on this research.