In Israel, breast cancer is the most common malignancy in women, but there are large intra-population differences. The aim of this study was to compare the incidence and mortality, incidence to mortality rate ratio and stage at diagnosis of breast cancer between Arab and Jewish women in Israel. Data on all cases of breast cancer, stage at diagnosis and mortality were obtained from the National Cancer Registry and the Central Bureau of Statistics. Trends in age-specific and age-adjusted incidence and mortality rates, rate ratios and stage at diagnosis were examined for Arab and Jewish women during 1979-2002. Five-year survival rates for 1995-1999 were compared by stage. Among Arab women, age-adjusted incidence rates increased by 202.1%, from 14.1 per 100,000 in 1979-1981 to 42.6 in 2000-2002. Among Jewish women, the rates increased by 45.7%, from 71.1 per 100,000 women in 1979-1981 to 103.6 in 2000-2002. Incidence to mortality rate ratio increased for both population groups, but it is still lower among Arab women. In every age group, Arab women were more likely to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage of the disease. The rise in breast cancer incidence and mortality rates and the later stage of diagnosis among Arab women emphasize the urgent need for increasing early detection of breast cancer in the Arab population by improving rates of compliance with screening mammography.