There has been considerable recent interest in the genetic, biological and epidemiological basis of mammographic density (MD), and the search for causative links between MD and breast cancer (BC) risk. This report will critically review the current literature on MD and summarize the current evidence for its association with BC. Keywords 'mammographic dens*', 'dense mammary tissue' or 'percent dens*' were used to search the existing literature in English on PubMed and Medline. All reports were critically analyzed. The data were assigned to one of the following aspects of MD: general association with BC, its relationship with the breast hormonal milieu, the cellular basis of MD, the generic variations of MD, and its significance in the clinical setting. MD adjusted for age, and BMI is associated with increased risk of BC diagnosis, advanced tumour stage at diagnosis and increased risk of both local recurrence and second primary cancers. The MD measures that predict BC risk have high heritability, and to date several genetic markers associated with BC risk have been found to also be associated with these MD risk predictors. Change in MD could be a predictor of the extent of chemoprevention with tamoxifen. Although the biological and genetic pathways that determine and perhaps modulate MD remain largely unresolved, significant inroads are being made into the understanding of MD, which may lead to benefits in clinical screening, assessment and treatment strategies. This review provides a timely update on the current understanding of MD's association with BC risk.