To perform an epidemiological evaluation of the predictive value of p53 autoantibodies in breast cancer, we measured antibodies against p53 in serum samples from 165 breast cancer patients in comparison with serum samples from 330 healthy controls, selected from the same population as the cases and matched for age, sex and specimen storage time. Median age of patients was 51 years (range 25-64 years). Presence of serum p53 autoantibodies was analysed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and confirmed by Western blotting. The lower ELISA reactivities were similar for cases and controls, but presence of high-level reactivity was more common among cases than among controls [odds ratio (OR) 9.03, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.40-50.43]. Presence of Western blot-detected p53 autoantibodies had a very similar association (OR 10.8, CI 3.0-59.4). Among the cases, we also studied whether there was any correlation between level of anti-p53 antibodies and stage of the disease or survival. There was no significant correlation between presence of antibodies and stage of the disease. There was a significant negative correlation between presence of p53 antibodies and survival (P = 0.003). A stepwise multivariate Cox regression analysis showed that T-stage, age and presence of anti-p53 antibodies were significant independent prognostic variables, with a dose-dependent negative effect on survival for all three variables. We conclude that presence of anti-p53 antibodies are of significance both for the risk of having breast cancer and the risk of dying from breast cancer.