To evaluate the association between mammographic density and breast cancer risk, a simple, observer-assisted technique called interactive thresholding was developed that allows reliable quantitative assessment of mammographic density with use of a computer workstation. Use of this technique helps confirm that mammographic density is one of the strongest risk factors for breast cancer and is present in a large proportion of breast cancer cases. The strong relationship between mammographic density and breast cancer risk suggests that the causes of breast cancer may be better understood by identifying the factors associated with mammographically dense tissue and determining how such tissue changes as these factors vary. Furthermore, because it can be modified, mammographic density may also be a good vehicle for the development and monitoring of potential preventive strategies. Areas of ongoing investigation include evaluating a potential genetic component of mammographic density by comparing density measurements in twins and understanding changes in density relative to age, menopausal status, exogenous hormone use, and exposure to environmental carcinogens. In addition, work is ongoing to establish measurements from imaging modalities other than mammography and to relate these measurements directly to breast cancer risk.