Paired DNA samples from the neoplastic and nonneoplastic cells of 118 patients with the sporadic, nonfamilial form of breast cancer were analyzed for evidence of genetic alteration at a polymorphic microsatellite mapped to intron 6 within the MUC1 gene at 1q21. Two other microsatellite loci, D1S104 and APO-A2, which also map to 1q21, were analyzed as well. The frequency of alteration at the microsatellite within the MUC1 locus was significantly higher than D1S104 or APO-A2 (P < 0.001). Analysis by Southern blotting of the VNTR region of the MUC1 gene revealed an amplification of one allele in 34 of 54 informative cases (63%). There was no significant association between these alterations and alterations of the microsatellite within the same locus, suggesting independent mechanisms were responsible for the genetic changes. Microsatellite loci D17S579 at 17q21, the site of the BRCA1 gene, and D18S34 at 18q21-qter, the deleted in colorectal cancer locus, were also analyzed by PCR. Alterations at D17S579 and D18S34 were detected in 18.8% and 6.2% of patients, respectively (P < 0.001, and P < 0.1 relative to the frequency of alteration at D1S104 or APO-A2). A previously described polymorphism of hMSH2 was altered in 16.4% of cases.