For the past 70 years the dominant perception of cancer metabolism has been that it is fuelled mainly by glucose (via aerobic glycolysis) and glutamine. Consequently, investigations into the diagnosis, treatment and the basic metabolism of cancer cells have been directed by this perception. However, the data on cancer metabolism are equivocal, and in this study we have sought to clarify the issue. Using an innovative system we have measured the total ATP turnover of the MCF-7 breast cancer cell line, the contributions to this turnover by oxidative and glycolytic ATP production and the contributions to the oxidative component by glucose, lactate, glutamine, palmitate and oleate. The total ATP turnover over approx. 5 days was 26.8 micromol of ATP.10(7) cells(-1).h(-1). ATP production was 80% oxidative and 20% glycolytic. Contributions to the oxidative component were approx. 10% glucose, 14% glutamine, 7% palmitate, 4% oleate and 65% from unidentified sources. The contribution by glucose (glycolysis and oxidation) to total ATP turnover was 28.8%, glutamine contributed 10.7% and glucose and glutamine combined contributed 40%. Glucose and glutamine are significant fuels, but they account for less than half of the total ATP turnover. The contribution of aerobic glycolysis is not different from that in a variety of other non-transformed cell types.