The aromatase enzyme complex, which regulates the conversion of androstenedione to estrone, may have an important role in regulating estrogen synthesis in breast tissues. In this study the effect of tumor location on aromatase activity in adjacent tissue was examined and related to interleukin-6 (IL-6) production, which has been shown to stimulate aromatase activity in breast cancer cells. Samples of normal and malignant breast tissues were obtained from 11 women undergoing mastectomy. In 7 patients, aromatase activity was highest in the quadrant in which the tumor was located or on which the tumor impinged. Aromatase activity in tumor-bearing quadrants was significantly higher than that in adjacent and opposite quadrants. Aromatase activity and IL-6 production, expressed in terms of tissue weight, were significantly higher for tumor tissue compared with normal breast adipose tissue. A significant correlation was found between aromatase activity and IL-6 production for breast tumor tissue (rs = 0.56; P < 0.05), but not for adipose tissue from the breast quadrants. Aromatase activity and IL-6 production were also measured in tissue obtained from a normal woman undergoing reduction mammoplasty who had previously had breast augmentation by silicone injection, not contained within a capsule. In tissue from this patient there was evidence of chronic inflammation and a marked macrophage response. Aromatase activity in this tissue was considerably higher than that detected in mastectomy adipose tissue samples, and a significant correlation was found between aromatase activity and IL-6 production (rs = 0.77; P < 0.05). A preliminary study to examine the potential role of cells of the immune system in regulating breast tissue aromatase activity revealed that conditioned medium collected from macrophages and lymphocytes could markedly stimulate aromatase activity in tumor-derived fibroblasts. The results of this study confirmed that breast tumor location can influence aromatase activity in adjacent tissues and showed that aromatase activity is increased in tumor-bearing quadrants. The increased production of IL-6 by tumor tissue and its correlation with aromatase activity suggest that tumors may be the major source of IL-6, which is able to influence aromatase activity in adjacent tissues.