Insulin-like growth factor (IGF) binding protein-1 (BP-1) inhibits IGF-mediated proliferation of some breast cancer cell lines in vitro. Here we examined whether recombinant human wild-type IGFBP-1 (WT-BP-1) and IGFBP-1 conjugated with polyethylene glycol (PEG-BP-1) could inhibit breast cancer growth. Three breast cancer cell lines were used: MCF-7, MDA-MB-231 and MDA-MB-435A (ascites model). The cells were grown in agar with or without the BP-1 conjugates to investigate their effect on colony formation. Both WT-BP-1 and PEG-BP-1 inhibited anchorage-independent growth (AIG) of MCF-7 and MDA-MB-435A cells. AIG of MDA-MB-231 cells was not inhibited by PEG-BP-1, whereas WT-BP-1 significantly stimulated colony number. We also tested both forms of BP-1 in xenograft tumour models. Two solid breast tumour models were studied using MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 cell lines, and one ascites model using the MDA-MB-435A cell line. PEG-BP-1 inhibited malignant ascites formation in the MDA-MB-435A model. Conversely, PEG-BP-1 did not significantly inhibit MCF-7 xenograft growth. However, the MDA-MB-231 tumour growth curves were significantly different by a constant amount, suggesting that PEG-BP-1 treatment inhibited early tumour growth of this cell line. In contrast, WT-BP-1 was ineffective in the MDA-MB-231 tumours. These data show that anti-IGF strategies can be used to inhibit breast cancer cell growth. Since PEG-BP-1 inhibited the in vivo, but not in vitro, growth of MDA-MB-231, we speculate that PEG-BP-1 may block host IGF functions required for optimal tumorigenesis. Because PEG-BP-1 has a prolonged serum half-life compared to WT-BP-1, we conclude that improvements in BP-1 pharmacological properties enhanced its antitumour effects in vivo.