Sustained expression of the estrogen receptor-α (ESR1) drives two-thirds of breast cancer and defines the ESR1-positive subtype. ESR1 engages enhancers upon estrogen stimulation to establish an oncogenic expression program. Somatic copy number alterations involving the ESR1 gene occur in approximately 1% of ESR1-positive breast cancers, suggesting that other mechanisms underlie the persistent expression of ESR1. We report significant enrichment of somatic mutations within the set of regulatory elements (SRE) regulating ESR1 in 7% of ESR1-positive breast cancers. These mutations regulate ESR1 expression by modulating transcription factor binding to the DNA. The SRE includes a recurrently mutated enhancer whose activity is also affected by rs9383590, a functional inherited single-nucleotide variant (SNV) that accounts for several breast cancer risk-associated loci. Our work highlights the importance of considering the combinatorial activity of regulatory elements as a single unit to delineate the impact of noncoding genetic alterations on single genes in cancer.