We conducted a population-based study with medical-record review of breast cancer patients as part of a larger study of an oncology outreach program to improve cancer management for rural patients within their community hospital. This analysis compares the breast cancer care received by the rural population before the oncology outreach program with that of the contiguous urban population. All 1986-87 cases in selected Illinois (United States) counties were identified using the Illinois State Cancer Registry. Data were obtained by hospital record audit and physician survey. Case follow-back was 98 percent complete. Rural cases were evaluated separately when they were diagnosed in an urban facility. State-of-the-art management was defined by the 1986-87 Physician Data Query and included diagnostic evaluation, prognostic evaluation, and stage-specific treatment. A summary variable incorporated whether or not the most appropriate management was offered. Compared with urban cases, rural cases diagnosed in rural hospitals were less likely to have staged tumors and more likely to have node dissections. Rural cases traveling to urban centers were less likely to have limited surgery, hormone therapy, and a biopsy as a first-step surgical procedure, and more likely to have node dissection.