Wolfe defined four different classes of breast parenchymal patterns and claimed that they were associated with different risks for the subsequent development of breast cancer. Egan and Mosteller suggested that these patterns did not constitute a true risk factor, rather the effect was caused by the greater difficulty of detecting breast cancers in the dense (P2, DY) patterns compared with the fatty (N1, P1) patterns. Similarly, Mendell believed that a bias was introduced into Wolfe's work by requiring a negative mammogram before a patient entered the study. This study of 221 prevalent and 706 incident cancers followed for up to 10 years indicates that a masking effect does exist, but that it operates in addition to a difference in risk of breast cancer within the four Wolfe classes. Wolfe's hypothesis is found to be valid.