Systemic autoimmune rheumatic diseases (SARDs) are chronic inflammatory and immuno-modulatory conditions that have been suggested to affect cancer risk. Using the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results-Medicare-linked database, women aged 67-99 years and diagnosed with incident breast cancer in 1993-2002 (n=84 778) were compared with an equal number of age-matched cancer-free female controls. Diagnoses of SARDs, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA, n=5238), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, n=340), Sjogren's syndrome (n=374), systemic sclerosis (n=128), and dermatomyositis (n=31), were determined from claim files for individuals from age 65 years to 1 year before selection. Associations of SARD diagnoses with breast cancer, overall and by oestrogen receptor (ER) expression, were assessed using odds ratio (OR) estimates from multivariable logistic regression models. The women diagnosed with RA were less likely to develop breast cancer (OR=0.87, 95% confidence interval (CI)=0.82-0.93). The risk reduction did not differ by tumour ER-status (OR=0.83, 95% CI=0.78-0.89 for ER-positive vs OR=0.91, 95% CI=0.81-1.04 for ER-negative, P for heterogeneity=0.14). The breast cancer risk was not associated with any of the other SARDs, except for a risk reduction of ER-negative cases (OR=0.49, 95% CI=0.26-0.93) among women with SLE. These findings suggest that systemic inflammation may affect breast epithelial neoplasia.