• Open Access

Risk factors for breast cancer: epidemiological evidence from Japanese studies


1To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: moiwasak@ncc.go.jp


Although our understanding of the etiology of breast cancer has improved, many well-known risk factors are not modifiable and present knowledge has proved insufficient to allow the disease to be overcome. Indeed, incidence and mortality among Japanese women have increased over the past three decades. Here, we review epidemiological evidence from our cohort and case–control studies among Japanese women in comparison with other published findings. Our studies confirm the important role of established factors derived primarily from Western populations, such as menstrual and reproductive factors, anthropometric factors, physical activity, and alcohol intake, in the development of breast cancer. In addition, we provide further evidence to better understand the role of traditional Japanese foods in the etiology of breast cancer. Our cohort study found that a higher intake of isoflavone and higher levels of plasma genistein, but not daidzein, were associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer. Our case–control studies reveal a dose–response pattern for these compounds; specifically, decreased risk as women move from “no” to “moderate” intake and leveling off thereafter. In addition, gene–environment interactions have been revealed in the effects of isoflavones. The evidence reviewed suggests that isoflavone has a protective effect against breast cancer in Asian populations. Conversely, our cohort study did not observe an inverse association between breast cancer risk and the intake of green tea and/or the plasma level of tea polyphenols, but we did find an association between increased risk and active and passive smoking. In conclusion, based on current knowledge, primary prevention according to individual lifestyle modification should focus on alcohol intake, weight control, physical activity, and tobacco smoking. (Cancer Sci 2011; 102: 1607–1614)