The influence of polymorphisms of the glutathione S-transferase gene GSTM1 in breast cancer susceptibility has been assessed in this study. Previous studies correlated the absence of the GSTM1 protein with an increased risk of developing some cancers, especially lung or bladder cancers, in heavy smokers. In this study, we determined GSTM1 polymorphisms in a population of 437 female controls from the west of France and 361 community breast cancer patients. Three distinct alleles of this gene exist: GSTM1*A, GSTM1*B and GSTM1*0 (deleted allele). Null subjects (GSTM1 null) are homozygous for this deletion. The comparative analysis of GSTM1 allelotypes in our two populations did not demonstrate a statistically significant difference in distribution (P = 0.22), although the null genotype was more frequent in cancer patients. However, breast cancer risk was increased in null subjects > or = 50 years of age compared with non-null subjects [odds ratio = 1.99 (1.19-3.32), P = 0.009], but not in null subjects < 50 years of age compared with non-null subjects (P = 0.86). Our results suggest that the GSTM1 null genotype may play a role in post-menopausal breast cancer development. They also point to a putative protective role of the A allele in the older female control group, especially in hemizygous subjects [odds ratio = 0.42 (0.23-0.77), P = 0.03].