Dr Pamela Magee, from the School of Biomedical Sciences, has been investigating the effects of a group of dietary compounds, found almost exclusively in soy foods, in the prevention of cancer spread.
Dr Magee said: "Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer affecting women in the western world, with 950 women in Northern Ireland alone suffering from the disease per year.
"But among South-East Asian populations, and in areas where soy products are traditionally consumed in high amounts in the diet, incidence of breast cancer is low.
"Soy contains naturally occurring hormone-like compounds called isoflavones that scientists believe can inhibit breast cancer development.
"In our study we used cell cultures to examine the effects of isoflavones on the invasion of breast cancer cells. The isoflavones exerted potent inhibitory effects on breast cancer cell invasion, even at concentrations similar to those found in South East-Asian populations.
"These novel findings seem to indicate that eating a soy rich products such as soy milk, soy drinks and desserts, could have an important role in preventing the spread of cancer cells in the body. Further studies in human volunteers are now needed to confirm whether soy isoflavones will protect against breast cancer spread in patients.
"Although recent advances have been made in tumour detection and treatment, the spread of cancer remains a significant cause of mortality. The invasion of cancerous cells from their site of origin into the neighbouring environment enables cancerous cells to travel and grow at new sites within the body. Any agent, therefore, which can prevent the invasive process could become a powerful tool in the prevention of cancer spread."