It has been hypothesized that women who participate in vigorous physical activity may have lower risk of breast cancer due to lower lifetime exposure to ovarian hormones. A population-based case-control study was conducted to investigate the association between leisure-time physical activity and risk of breast cancer among women aged 21 to 45 years. Cases were 747 women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer between 1983 and 1990 in three counties of western Washington state (United States), and were identified through the Seattle-Puget Sound Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) registry. Controls were 961 women selected from the same area by random-digit telephone dialing. Physical activity was assessed through personal interview, with questions on frequency and duration of each type of recreational activity during the two-year period immediately prior to reference data (date of diagnosis for cases and a comparable assigned date for controls) and between ages 12 and 21. For the two-year time period before diagnosis, there was no association with frequency of activity (age-adjusted odds ratio [OR] = 0.93, 95 percent confidence interval [CI] = 0.71-1.22 for four or more episodes per week cf none), total hours spent in physical activity (age-adjusted OR = 0.92, CI = 0.71-1.22 for four or more hours per week cf none) or MET (metabolic equivalent energy expenditure unit) (age-adjusted OR = 0.95, CI = 0.73-1.23 for 18 or more METs per week of none), nor any trend is risk with increasing activity levels. Similarly, there was no association between leisure activity during adolescence and breast cancer risk. These results were not confounded further by body mass index (wt/ht2), age at menarche, age at first full-term pregnancy, parity, family history of breast cancer, or other measured health behaviors. Our findings do not support a protective effect of leisure-time physical activity either in the adolescent years or in adulthood on breast cancer in young women.