Loss of heterozygosity (LOH), a genetic change frequently detected in cancer, can also occur in benign epithelial foci in the breast. To characterize LOH in benign breast tissue, 32 cases containing the various components of fibrocystic change in the absence of malignancy were studied. Microdissected foci of ductal hyperplasia, apocrine metaplasia, sclerosing adenosis, and morphologically normal terminal duct lobular units (TDLUs) were analyzed for LOH at 14 polymorphic loci representing seven chromosomal arms. LOH was detected in 22% of normal TDLUs (6/27), 17% of adenosis (4/23), 19% of hyperplasia (4/21), and 53% of apocrine metaplasia (10/19) specimens. Because of the high percentage of LOH in apocrine metaplasia in nonneoplastic specimens, the genetic relationship between apocrine metaplasia and cancer was studied in a panel of breast cancer cases. Of 14 examples of apocrine metaplasia adjacent to a carcinoma, seven were found to have LOH with at least one marker. In all seven cases, the tumor and apocrine metaplasia shared LOH at one or more markers. The results demonstrate that LOH occurs frequently in the components of fibrocystic change as well as in normal TDLUs and suggest that foci of apocrine metaplasia can share a genetically altered precursor cell with an associated carcinoma.