Steroid sulfatase (STS) regulates the formation of active steroids from systemic precursors, such as estrone sulfate and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS). In breast tissues, this pathway is a source for local production of estrogens, which support the growth of endocrine-dependent tumours. Therefore, inhibitors of STS could have therapeutic potential. In this study, we report on substituted chromenone sulfamates as a novel class of non-steroidal irreversible inhibitors of STS. The compounds are substantially more potent (6- to 80-fold) than previously described types of non-steroidal inhibitors when tested against purified STS. In MCF-7 breast cancer cells, they inhibit STS activity with IC(50) below 100 pM. Importantly, the compounds also potently block estrone sulfate-stimulated growth of MCF-7 cells, again with IC(50) below 100 pM. For one compound, we also observed a lack of any estrogenic effect at high concentrations (1 microM). We also demonstrate for the first time that STS inhibitors can block the DHEAS-stimulated growth of MCF-7 cells. Interestingly, this cannot be achieved with specific inhibitors of the aromatase, suggesting that stimulation of MCF-7 cell growth by DHEAS follows an aromatase-independent pathway. This gives further justification to consider steroid sulfatase inhibitors as potential drugs in the therapy of breast cancer.