Organochlorines are persistent and highly lipophilic environmental contaminants which bioaccumulate in the food chain. Some of these chemicals, 2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl)-1,1,1-trichloroethane (DDT) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), have been suggested to be of significance in the aetiology of breast cancer. 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) is an anti-oestrogen in animal studies and should be thus lower the risk of breast cancer. The other isomers of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs) or the chemically related polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs) have not been tested regarding carcinogenesis of the breast. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether PCDDs or PCDFs influence the risk for breast cancer. Consecutive patients who underwent surgery for a breast disease between 1993 and 1995 were recruited for the study. Cases were 22 patients with infiltrative breast cancer and controls were 19 patients operated for a benign breast disease during the same time period. Approximately 10 g of breast tissue free from tumour was taken from the specimen and frozen until analysis. Fat was extracted, cleaned and analysed with a high-resolution gas chromatograph coupled to a high-resolution mass spectrometer. Median concentrations of octachlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxin (OCDD) were 598 (170-14,880) and 396 (103-1,847) pg/g lipid in the cases and in the controls, respectively. In a multivariate logistic regression analysis controlling for other risk factors for breast cancer increased odds ratio (OR) was obtained for OCDD: 401-1000 pg/g lipid yielded OR 3.8, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.4-39, > 1000 pg/g lipid gave OR 5.2, CI 0.4-72. When the lipid OCDD variable was examined as a continuous risk factor there was a 1.09 (9%), CI 0.95-1.25, increase in the adjusted OR for breast cancer per 100 unit (pg/g lipid) increase in OCDD. No differences were found between cases and controls for the other six tested PCDDs. Mean concentration of TCDD was in the cases 3.6 (1.0-7.9) and in the controls 3.3 (1.1-6.3) pg/g lipid. For PCDFs no significant differences were found between cases and controls. The results were not changed if oestrogen or progesterone receptor status, S-phase fraction and DNA ploidy were considered. Breast tissue concentration of OCDD was increased in cancer patients, whereas the concentrations of other PCDDs and PCDFs were equal in cases and controls.