The adipocytokines are biologically active polypeptides that are produced either exclusively or substantially by the adipocytes, and act by endocrine, paracrine, and autocrine mechanisms. Most have been associated with obesity, hyperinsulinaemia, type 2 diabetes, and chronic vascular disease; in addition, six adipocytokines--vascular endothelial growth factor, hepatocyte growth factor, leptin, tumour necrosis factor-alpha, heparin-binding epidermal growth factor-like growth factor, and interleukin-6--promote angiogenesis while one, adiponectin, is inhibitory. Obesity and insulin resistance have both been identified as risk factors for breast cancer and are associated with late-stage disease and poor prognosis. Angiogenesis is essential for breast cancer development and progression, and so it is plausible that obesity-related increases in adipocytokine production and a reduction in adiponectin may adversely affect breast cancer outcome by their angiogenesis-related activities. There is also experimental evidence that some adipocytokines can act directly on breast cancer cells to stimulate their proliferation and invasive capacity. Thus, adipocytokines may provide a biological mechanism by which obesity and insulin resistance are causally associated with breast cancer risk and poor prognosis. Both experimental and clinical studies are needed to develop this concept, and particularly in oestrogen-independent breast cancers where preventive and therapeutic options are limited.