Statistics from the Swedish National Cancer Registry based on all 110,658 cases of invasive breast cancer during the 31-year period 1958-1988 were analysed. Age-specific incidence rates increased over successive calendar periods. The average annual increase in the age-standardised incidence rate was 1.3%, with the greatest percentage changes among the youngest age groups. During the latter half of the study period, the rates of increase tended to diminish in the youngest age groups and even reversed significantly among women from 75 years of age. In analyses using age-period-cohort models, the best fit of the cancer incidence data was found for the full model which simultaneously considered the effects of age, period and cohort. Cohort effects were found to be more important than period effects, in terms of model fit. These effects emerged as a seemingly consistent, and in a logarithmic scale, fairly linear increase in the relative risk of breast cancer incidence with a 3-fold elevation in women born in the 1950's relative to those born in the 1880's. It is concluded that the rising breast cancer incidence in Sweden is explained chiefly by birth cohort effects, which indicate persistent secular changes in largely unknown risk factors associated with life style. We could not in the present data see any clear evidence for an adverse effect of contraceptive or replacement sex steroids on breast cancer incidence.