There are recent data to suggest that risk factors for breast cancer may differ according to whether the tumor expresses detectable levels of the estrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone receptor (PR). While a family history of breast cancer is one of the most consistent predictors of the disease, we recently reported a modest inverse association with ER+PR- tumors. However, the definition of a family history of cancer did not consider second-degree relatives or cancer sites that may be etiologically related. The current report presents additional data analysis from the Iowa Women's Health Study, a prospective population-based cohort study conducted among 41,837 postmenopausal women. At baseline in 1986, respondents provided information on family history of cancers of the breast, ovaries, or uterus/endometrium in their mothers, sisters, daughters, maternal and paternal grandmothers, and maternal and paternal aunts. Data on family history of prostate cancer in fathers and brothers and age at onset of breast cancer in mothers and sisters were collected in 1992. Cohort members were followed for cancer incidence through the statewide tumor registry. After 7 years and more than 235,000 person-years of follow-up, 939 incident cases of breast cancer were identified. Information was obtained from the tumor registry on ER (+/-) and PR (+/-) status for 610 cases (65.0%). A family history of breast cancer in first-degree relatives was associated with increased risk (relative risk [PR] = 1.4; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.1-1.6) for all receptor-defined subtypes of breast cancer except ER+PR- tumors (RR = 0.7; 95% CI: 0.3-1.4). These results were unchanged when data on second-degree relatives were included. When the onset of breast cancer in relatives occurred at or before the age of 45 years, increased risks were evident only for ER-PR+ and ER-PR- tumors (RR = 2.3 and 3.3, respectively). Conversely, when relatives were affected with breast cancer after the age of 45 years, increased risks were most apparent for ER+PR+ and ER-PR+ tumors (RR = 1.3 and 3.2, respectively). A family history of prostate cancer in first-degree relatives was associated with a 1.2-fold increased risk of breast cancer (95% CI: 0.98-1.50), largely a reflection of the association with ER-PR- tumors (RR = 1.5; 95% CI: 0.8-3.0). The small numbers of cases in some categories and the corresponding wide CIs preclude definitive conclusions, but these data are at least suggestive that joint stratification of breast tumors on ER and PR status may be useful in partitioning breast cancer families into more homogeneous subsets.