TGFβ contributes to mammary gland development and has paradoxical roles in breast cancer because it has both tumor suppressor and tumor promoter activity. Another member of the TGFβ superfamily, activin, also has roles in the developing mammary gland, but these functions, and the role of activin in breast cancer, are not well characterized. TGFβ and activin share the same intracellular signaling pathways, but divergence in their signaling pathways are suggested. The purpose of this review is to compare the spatial and temporal expression of TGFβ and activin during mammary gland development, with consideration given to their functions during each developmental period. We also review the contributions of TGFβ and activin to breast cancer resistance and susceptibility. Finally, we consider the systemic contributions of activin in regulating obesity and diabetes; and the impact this regulation has on breast cancer. Elevated levels of activin in serum during pregnancy and its influence on pregnancy associated breast cancer are also considered. We conclude that evidence demonstrates that activin has tumor suppressing potential, without definitive indication of tumor promoting activity in the mammary gland, making it a good target for development of therapeutics.