The effect of isoflavones on the growth of the human breast carcinoma cell lines, MDA-468 (estrogen receptor negative), and MCF-7 and MCF-7-D-40 (estrogen receptor positive), has been examined. Genistein is a potent inhibitor of the growth of each cell line (IC50 values from 6.5 to 12.0 micrograms/ml), whereas biochanin A and daidzein are weaker growth inhibitors (IC50 values from 20 to 34 micrograms/ml). The isoflavone beta-glucosides, genistin and daidzin, have little effect on growth (IC50 values greater than 100 micrograms/ml). The presence of the estrogen receptor is not required for the isoflavones to inhibit tumor cell growth (MDA-468 vs MCF-7 cells). In addition, the effects of genistein and biochanin A are not attenuated by overexpression of the multi-drug resistance gene product (MCF-7-D40 vs MCF-7 cells).