Regular screening mammographies and increasing knowledge of high-risk groups have resulted in an improvement in the rate of detection of smaller malignant lesions. However, uncertain minimal mammographic features frequently require further costly and often uncomfortable investigation, including repeat radiological controls or surgical procedures, before cancerous lesions can be identified. Placental isoferritin (p43), a protein with immunosuppressive effects, has been detected on the surface of lymphocytes taken from peripheral blood in patients with breast cancer. In this study we evaluated the sensitivity and specificity of the expression of p43-positive lymphocytes as a marker in early stage breast cancer and also investigated its expression on T-cell subpopulations. The presence of p43-positive lymphocytes was investigated using the monoclonal antibody CM-H-9 and flow cytometry in 76 women with controversial, non-palpable mammographic findings who were undergoing surgical biopsy. Patients with early breast cancer (n = 48) had significantly higher p43-positive cell values (median 3.83%, range 0.98-19.4) than patients with benign lumps (n = 28, median 1.43%, range 0.17-3.7) or controls (n = 22, median 1.3%, range 0.4-1.87) (P < 0.0001). At a cut-off level of 2% p43-positive cells a sensitivity of 91.7% and a specificity of 89.3% for detection of breast cancer could be reached. While the median ratio of total CD4+/CD8+ cells was 2.6, a ratio of 1.3 was found for the p43-positive subpopulation (P < 0.001), thus indicating a significant link between p43 and CD8+ cells. The determination of p43-positive lymphocytes in peripheral blood could serve as an additional diagnostic tool in patients with controversial mammographic findings and could also reduce the need for cost-intensive and often uncomfortable management of these patients.