The activity of the aromatase enzyme, which converts androgens into oestrogens and has a major role in regulating oestrogen levels in the breast, is thought to be a contributing factor in the development of breast cancer. We undertook this study to assess the role of constitutional genetic variation in the human aromatase gene (Cyp19) in the development of this disease. Our genotyping of 348 cases with breast cancer and 145 controls (all Caucasian women) for a published tetranucleotide repeat polymorphism at intron 4 of the Cyp19 gene revealed the presence of six common and two rare alleles. Contingency table analysis revealed a significant difference in allelic distribution between cases and controls (chi2 5df = 13.52, P = 0.019). The allele measuring 171 bp was over-represented in cases; of 14 individuals homozygous for this allele, 13 were cases. These individuals had a higher incidence of cancer in family members and an earlier age at diagnosis than other cases. In sequencing Cyp19's coding exons and regulatory regions, we discovered a perfect association between a silent polymorphism (G-->A at Val80) and the high-risk genotype. Our conclusion is that constitutional genetic variation at the Cyp19 locus is associated with the risk of developing breast cancer, with the 171-bp allele serving as the high-risk allele.