To evaluate the feasibility of nipple aspiration and to identify intermediate markers of breast cancer risk, nipple aspirate fluid (NAF) was collected from 177 subjects using a modified breast pump. The first 33 subjects demonstrated that we could obtain NAF quickly, reliably and repeatedly. Specimens from the remaining 144 subjects were collected to evaluate promising cellular biomarkers. NAF was obtained in 167 out of 177 (94%) subjects overall and in 99% of the 144 most recent subjects. Sufficient NAF was obtained to evaluate cytology in 160 out of 167 (96%) cases and specimens were sufficiently cellular to analyse DNA markers in 53% of cases. Among the last 144 subjects, menopausal status did not influence the ability to obtain NAF. NAF cytology correlated with increased breast cancer risk (P = 0.002). Using computerized image analysis of NAF epithelial cells, DNA index (P = 0.0002), percentage of cells in G2M (P = 0.05) and percentage of cells with hypertetraploidy (P = 0.002) increased as cytology became more abnormal. Our data indicate that NAF can be obtained in essentially all eligible subjects; that breast epithelial cells are evaluable in > 95% of NAF samples for cytology and in over half of NAF samples for DNA index (ploidy) and cell cycle analysis; and that abnormal NAF cytology correlates with increased breast cancer risk. This suggests that biomarkers identified in nipple aspirate fluid may prove useful either as an adjunct to currently accepted breast cancer screening methods, or to evaluate response to a chemopreventive agent.