The purposes of this study were to determine whether exposure of the vestigial male breast to ionizing radiation is associated with an increase in risk of breast cancer and, if so, to determine whether the apparent effects on risk in men are similar to those reported for women. A population-based case-control study of breast cancer in men was conducted in 10 geographic areas of the United States. Information on possible prior exposure to ionizing radiation, and on other potential risk factors for breast cancer, was obtained from personal interviews of 227 cases and 300 controls who were recruited from October 1983 to September 1986. Evidence from this study that ionizing radiation can cause breast cancer in men includes: a modest trend of increasing risk with frequency of chest X-rays; an increase in risk in men with three or more radiographic examinations, especially if received prior to 1963; and an increase in risk in men who received X-ray treatments to the chest and adjacent body areas. Risk was increased only from 20 to 35 years after initial exposure from either radiographic examinations or X-ray treatments, and declined after three to four decades since last exposure, suggesting a wave of increased risk of finite duration following exposure. The doses of radiation received could not be estimated precisely, but those from diagnostic procedures were likely similar to those received by prepubertal females in prior studies, and the results of those and the present investigation are compatible. The carcinogenic effects of ionizing radiation may be similar in the male and prepubertal female breast.