Suppressor of cytokine signaling (SOCS) proteins have emerged as critical attenuators of cytokine-mediated processes, suggesting a role in the suppression of tumorigenesis. In the ovary and mammary gland, cytokines such as prolactin and IL-6 are important regulators of growth and differentiation. We have investigated whether silencing or inactivation of SOCS genes occurs in ovarian and breast carcinomas. The SOCS1 and SOCS2 CpG islands were found to be hypermethylated in 23 and 14% of primary ovarian cancers, respectively, whereas only SOCS1 was methylated in breast cancers (9%). Methylation of these genes did not occur in normal tissues. No correlation was apparent between methylation and loss of heterozygosity, and no somatic mutations were found in a large panel of carcinomas. Aberrant methylation of these SOCS genes correlated with transcriptional silencing in ovarian and breast cancer cell lines, since expression was induced by the demethylating agent 5-azadeoxycytidine. SOCS3 was not hypermethylated in either cancer type. Consistent with this data, SOCS1 and SOCS2 but not SOCS3 suppressed the growth of ovarian and breast cancer cells. Hypermethylation and silencing of specific SOCS genes in the ovary, and to a lesser extent in breast, may augment cytokine responsiveness in these tissues, thereby contributing to oncogenesis.