If detected early, breast cancer is curable. We tested cells collected from the breast ducts by methylation-specific PCR (MSP). Methylated alleles of Cyclin D2, RAR-beta, and Twist genes were frequently detected in fluid from mammary ducts containing endoscopically visualised carcinomas (17 cases of 20), and ductal carcinoma in situ (two of seven), but rarely in ductal lavage fluid from healthy ducts (five of 45). Two of the women with healthy mammograms whose ductal lavage fluid contained methylated markers and cytologically abnormal cells were subsequently diagnosed with breast cancer. Carrying out MSP in these fluid samples may provide a sensitive and powerful addition to mammographic screening for early detection of breast cancer.