Studies from the US have shown variations in breast cancer incidence, stage distribution, treatment and survival between ethnic groups. Data on 35 631 women diagnosed with breast cancer in South East England between 1998 and 2003 with self-assigned ethnicity information available were analysed. Results are reported for White, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean, Black African and Chinese women. Age-standardised breast cancer incidence rate ratios, patterns of stage of disease at diagnosis, treatment, overall and breast cancer-specific survival were examined. All ethnic groups studied had lower age-standardised breast cancer incidence rates than White women, with Bangladeshi women having the lowest rate ratio (0.23, 95% CI: 0.20-0.26). White women were the most likely to have a stage recorded at diagnosis (adjusted proportion 75%), and least likely to be diagnosed with metastatic disease (7%). Black African women were the least likely to have a record of cancer surgery (63%) or hormone therapy (32%), and most likely to receive chemotherapy (38%). After fully adjusting for age, socioeconomic deprivation, stage of disease and treatment received, there was no significant variation in breast cancer-specific survival. However, Black African women had significantly worse overall survival (hazard ratio 1.24, P=0.025). These findings suggest that a strategy of earlier detection should be pursued in Black and South Asian women.