As knowledge increases about the processes underlying cancer, it is becoming feasible to design "targeted therapies" directed toward specific pathways that are critical to the genesis or maintenance of the malignant phenotype. Poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibitors are an example of this new framework. DNA damage repair is a complex and multifaceted process that is critical to cell survival. Members of the PARP family are central to specific DNA damage repair pathways, particularly the base excision repair (BER) pathway. PARP inhibition, with subsequent impairment of the BER mechanism, may enhance the cytotoxicity of agents that generate single-strand breaks in DNA, such as radiation and certain chemotherapy drugs. In addition, PARP inhibitors may induce death through "synthetic lethality" if the DNA repair mechanisms that rescue BER-deficient cells are themselves impaired. This mechanism is thought to underlie the impressive results of PARP inhibition in BRCA-associated breast and ovarian cancer, and may also account for the reported benefit of this approach in "triple-negative" breast cancer. This review will examine the current understanding of PARP inhibition as a treatment for breast cancer, ongoing clinical trials, and future directions for this new approach.