The roles of carotenoids, retinol, and tocopherols in breast cancer etiology have been inconclusive. The authors prospectively assessed the relations between plasma alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein/zeaxanthin, retinol, alpha-tocopherol, and gamma-tocopherol and breast cancer risk by conducting a nested case-control study using plasma collected from women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study. A total of 969 cases of breast cancer diagnosed after blood draw and prior to June 1, 1998, were individually matched to controls. The multivariate risk of breast cancer was 25-35% less for women with the highest quintile compared with that for women with the lowest quintile of alpha-carotene (odds ratio (OR) = 0.64, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.47, 0.88; p(trend) = 0.01), beta-carotene (OR = 0.73, 95% CI: 0.53, 1.02; p(trend) = 0.01), lutein/zeaxanthin (OR = 0.74, 95% CI: 0.55, 1.01; p(trend) = 0.04), and total carotenoids (OR = 0.76, 95% CI: 0.55, 1.05; p(trend) = 0.05). The inverse association observed with alpha-carotene and breast cancer was greater for invasive cancers with nodal metastasis. The authors conclude that some carotenoids are inversely associated with breast cancer. Although the association was strongest for alpha-carotene, the high degree of collinearity among plasma carotenoids limits our ability to conclude that this association is specific to any individual carotenoid.