Among patients with breast cancer, tumors that contain estrogen receptors (ER) are associated with improved survival and better response to hormone therapy than those not expressing these receptors. The purpose of these case comparison studies was to examine the relationship between carotenoids, vitamin A, and the tumor ER status in women at diagnosis of primary breast cancer. The focus of the first study was the relationship between dietary intake and ER status, and the focus of the second study was the relationship between ER status and the plasma carotenoid, retinol, and tocopherol concentrations. We evaluated tumor ER status and self-reported dietary intake in 142 women and plasma concentrations of carotenoids, retinol, and tocopherols in 149 women, at diagnosis of breast cancer, before any medical or surgical treatment. In the first study the overall odds of ER-positive status were increased in relation to number of mammograms in the past five years, number of breast-fed babies, dietary carotenoid intake, and more frequent intake of yellow and green vegetables. Overall odds of ER-positive status were decreased in relation to years of oral contraceptive use and preformed vitamin A intake. In the second study older women, women with higher plasma lutein concentration, and women not using beta-carotene supplements were more likely to be ER positive, when data were adjusted for body mass index and factors that may influence breast cancer risk or hormonal status. Significant independent relationships between plasma retinol or tocopherol concentrations and ER status were not observed. The strong and independent relationships between carotenoid intake, plasma lutein concentration, and ER status may relate to observations linking a carotenoid-rich diet with improved prognosis after diagnosis of breast cancer.