Red meat intake has been postulated to increase the risk of breast cancer but epidemiologic studies have yielded inconsistent results. Data on meat intake in relation to hormone receptor-defined breast cancer are sparse. We examined the association of meat intake with incidence of breast cancer defined by oestrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone receptor (PR) status in the Swedish Mammography Cohort, a population-based cohort of 61,433 women. Dietary intake was assessed at baseline in 1987-1990 and again in 1997. Cox proportional hazards models were used to estimate relative risks for the association between long-term meat intake and breast cancer risk. During a mean follow-up of 17.4 years, 2952 incident cases of invasive breast cancer were ascertained. We found no association of total red meat, fresh red meat or processed meat intake with breast cancer risk. The multivariate relative risks (95% confidence interval) for the highest quintile of total red meat intake (98 g/d) compared with the lowest quintile (<46 g/d) were 0.98 (0.86-1.12) for overall breast cancer, 1.10 (0.90-1.34) for ER+/PR+ tumours, 0.86 (0.60-1.23) for ER+/PR- tumours and 1.12 (0.70-1.79) for ER-/PR- tumours. Intake of pan-fried meat was positively associated with a risk of ER+/PR- tumours; the multivariate relative risk for the highest compared with the lowest quartile of intake was 1.45 (95% confidence interval 1.03-2.03; P(trend)=0.03). These results do not support an association between red meat intake and overall breast cancer risk but suggest that fried meat intake may increase the risk of ER+/PR- breast cancer.