We analyzed data from the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Epidemiologic Follow-up Study to test the hypothesis that vitamin D from sunlight exposure, diet, and supplements reduces the risk of breast cancer. We identified 190 women with incident breast cancer from a cohort of 5009 white women who completed the dermatological examination and 24-h dietary recall conducted from 1971-1974 and who were followed up to 1992. Using Cox proportional hazards regression, we estimated relative risks (RRs) for breast cancer and 95% confidence intervals, adjusting for age, education, age at menarche, age at menopause, body mass index, alcohol consumption, and physical activity. Several measures of sunlight exposure and dietary vitamin D intake were associated with reduced risk of breast cancer, with RRs ranging from 0.67-0.85. The associations with vitamin D exposures, however, varied by region of residence. The risk reductions were highest for women who lived in United States regions of high solar radiation, with RRs ranging from 0.35-0.75. No reductions in risk were found for women who lived in regions of low solar radiation. Although limited by the relatively small size of the case population, the protective effects of vitamin D observed in this prospective study are consistent for several independent measures of vitamin D. These data support the hypothesis that sunlight and dietary vitamin D reduce the risk of breast cancer.