To investigate the relation between selected micronutrients and breast cancer risk, we conducted a case-control study of breast cancer between June 1991 and April 1994 in 6 Italian areas. The study included 2569 women admitted to the major teaching and general hospitals of the study areas with histologically confirmed incident breast cancer and 2588 control women with no history of cancer, who were admitted to hospitals in the same catchment areas for acute, non-neoplastic, nongynecological conditions unrelated to hormonal or digestive tract diseases or to long-term modifications of the diet. Dietary habits, including alcoholic beverage consumption, were investigated using a validated food frequency questionnaire, including 78 foods or food groups, several types of alcoholic beverages, some "fat intake pattern" questions and some open sections for foods consumed frequently by the subject and not reported in the questionnaire. To control for potential confounding factors, several multiple logistic regression models were used. When major correlates, energy intake and the mutual confounding effect of the various micronutrients were taken into account, beta-carotene, vitamin E and calcium showed a significant inverse association with breast cancer risk. The estimated odds ratios of the 5th quintile compared to the lowest one were 0.84 for beta-carotene, 0.75 for vitamin E and 0.81 for calcium. No significant association emerged for retinol, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, iron and potassium. Our results suggest that a diet rich in several micronutrients, particularly beta-carotene, vitamin E and calcium, may be protective against breast cancer.