Epidemiological and experimental studies suggest that dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) exerts a protective effect against breast cancer. It has been proposed that the non-competitive inhibition of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) contributes to DHEA antitumor action. We evaluated the effects of DHEA on G6PD activity and on the in vitro proliferation of two human breast cancer cell lines, MCF-7 (steroid receptor positive) and MDA-MB-231 (steroid receptor negative), in a serum-free assay. DHEA inhibition of G6PD was only found to occur at concentrations above 10 microM; at these high concentrations, the growth curve was parallel to the enzyme inhibition curve in both cell lines. In contrast, at concentrations in the in vivo breast tissue concentration range, neither cell growth nor enzyme activity was inhibited. The results failed to confirm DHEA's putative anti-tumor action on breast cancer through G6PD inhibition, as the enzyme blockade only becomes apparent at pharmacological concentrations of the steroid.