Epidemiological evidence indicates that mammographic dysplasia is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, particularly in premenopausal women. To examine biochemical associations with mammographic dysplasia we have compared premenopausal women with different patterns of the breast parenchyma on mammography. One group had extensive radiological dysplasia (n = 30) and the other no dysplasia (n = 16). Both groups were recruited from mammographic units in the same way and then compared according to epidemiological risk factors, anthropometric measures, nutrient intake and plasma levels of oestradiol, progesterone and prolactin obtained in both follicular and luteal phases of the menstrual cycle as well as total plasma cholesterol and lipid fractions. Women with mammographic dysplasia were found to be leaner, more often nulliparous and to consume more alcohol than women without these radiological changes. Mammographic dysplasia and a family history of breast cancer were found to be independently associated with significantly higher levels of high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) after taking into account the possible confounding effects of percentage body fat, parity and consumption of alcohol and dietary fat. Triglyceride levels were also independently associated with a family history of breast cancer. We conclude that further investigation is warranted of the role of plasma lipids in relation to breast cancer risk.