We investigated the potential of genistein, the primary isoflavone of soy, to protect against breast and prostate cancers in animal models. For mammary cancer studies, Sprague-Dawley rats were fed AIN-76A diet ± 250 mg genistein/kg diet. Dimethylbenz[a]anthracene was administered by gavage at d 50 postpartum to induce mammary tumors. Mammary cancer chemoprevention was demonstrated after prepubertal and combined prepubertal and adult genistein treatments but not after prenatal- or adult-only treatments, demonstrating that the timing of exposure to genistein is important for mammary cancer chemoprevention. The cellular mechanism of action was found to be mammary gland and cell differentiation, as shown by whole-mount analysis and β-casein expression. An imprinting effect was shown for epidermal growth factor receptor expression in mammary terminal end buds. For prostate cancer studies, we used two models. The first was a chemically (N-methylnitrosourea) induced prostate cancer rat model. Genistein in the diet inhibited the development of invasive adenocarcinomas in a dose-dependent manner. The second model was a transgenic mouse model that resulted in spontaneously developing adenocarcinoma tumor of the prostate. Genistein in the diet reduced the incidence of poorly differentiated prostatic adenocarcinomas in a dose-dependent manner and down-regulated androgen receptor, estrogen receptor-α, progesterone receptor, epidermal growth factor receptor, insulin-like growth factor-l, and extracellular signal-regulated kinase-1 but not estrogen receptor-β and transforming growth factor-α mRNA expressions. We conclude that dietary genistein protects against mammary and prostate cancers by regulating specific sex steroid receptors and growth factor signaling pathways.