To gain insight into whether breast cancer tumors jointly classified by estrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone receptor (PR) status represent diseases with differing etiologies, data from a population-based case-control study of US women 20-44 years of age were analyzed. Cases included 1,556 women diagnosed between 1990 and 1992. Age- and geographic-frequency-matched controls included 1,397 women identified by random digit dialing. Heterogeneity between ER+PR+ and ER-PR- tumors was most pronounced in relation to age, race, and recreational exercise at 12-13 years of age. Multivariate-adjusted odds ratios for ER+PR+ tumors were 0.64 (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.47, 0.89) for 30-34 versus 40-44 years of age, 0.89 (95% CI: 0.63, 1.25) for Black versus White race, and 0.84 (95% CI: 0.68, 1.03) for exercise at 12-13 years of age above versus at or below the median. Corresponding odds ratios for ER-PR- tumors were 1.24 (95% CI: 0.86, 1.77), 1.51 (95% CI: 1.07, 2.14), and 1.15 (95% CI: 0.90, 1.48). Risk of ER-PR- cancer in relation to menstrual and reproductive (parity and lactation) characteristics, alcohol consumption, and family history of breast cancer was similar to that observed for ER+PR+ tumors. These findings only modestly support the hypothesis that hormonally related risk factors have differing relations with ER+PR+ versus ER-PR- tumors among younger women.