Breast cancer is one of the most lethal diseases in women; however, the precise etiological factors are still not clear. Genistein (GE), a natural isoflavone found in soybean products, is believed to be a potent chemopreventive agent for breast cancer. One of the most important mechanisms for GE inhibition of breast cancer may involve its potential in impacting epigenetic processes allowing reversal of aberrant epigenetic events during breast tumorigenesis. To investigate epigenetic regulation for GE impedance of breast tumorigenesis, we monitored epigenetic alterations of several key tumor-related genes in an established breast cancer transformation system. Our results show that GE significantly inhibited cell growth in a dose-dependent manner in precancerous breast cells and breast cancer cells, whereas it exhibited little effect on normal human mammary epithelial cells. Furthermore, GE treatment increased expression of two crucial tumor suppressor genes, p21WAF1 (p21) and p16INK4a (p16), although it decreased expression of two tumor promoting genes, BMI1 and c-MYC. GE treatment led to alterations of histone modifications in the promoters of p21 and p16 as well as the binding ability of the c-MYC-BMI1 complex to the p16 promoter contributing to GE-induced epigenetic activation of these tumor suppressor genes. In addition, an orally-fed GE diet prevented breast tumorigenesis and inhibited breast cancer development in breast cancer mice xenografts. Our results suggest that genistein may repress early breast tumorigenesis by epigenetic regulation of p21 and p16 by impacting histone modifications as well as the BMI1-c-MYC complex recruitment to the regulatory region in the promoters of these genes. These studies will facilitate more effective use of soybean product in breast cancer prevention and also help elucidate the mechanisms during the process of early breast tumorigenesis. © 2013 Li et al.