The relationship between dietary fat intake (level and type) and the development of breast cancer in humans is a matter of concern in Western society. A high fat intake is associated with a greater mammary cancer risk in humans and in animal models. Higher intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids in humans shows little or no association with mammary tumor development in epidemiologic surveys. From literature data, it appears that a higher intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids (linoleic acid) is related to an increase in mammary tumorigenesis in animal studies in which chemical carcinogens like dimethylbenz[a]anthracene are used as tumor initiator. Mostly the latency period of these chemically induced models in rather short. In this study, the Bald/c-MMTV (mouse mammary tumor virus) mouse strain was chosen as an animal model: MMTV leads to tumor initiation, and dietary factors influence tumor promotion over a relatively long latency period. The mice were fed diets with two fat concentrations: a high [36% of energy (en%)] or low (16 en%) fat level; fat was isocalorically replaced by carbohydrates (cornstarch). At both dietary fat levels, linoleic acid was given at four levels: 2, 3, 6, and 10 en%. Linoleic acid-rich fat was isocalorically replaced by oleic acid-rich fat. The diets were consumed ad libitum over a lifetime. Animals were euthanized as soon as mammary tumor diameter was > or = 1 cm or when the animals were in a poor clinical condition. The incidence of mammary tumors at 18 months was significantly higher in one group only: 36 en% fat and 2 en% linoleic acid. This group also showed the shortest mean latency period for mammary tumor development. Mean mammary tumor incidence was higher and mean onset time shorter in the four high-fat groups than in the low-fat groups. No (linear) dose-response relationship between dietary linoleic acid concentration and mammary tumor incidence and latency period was observed. This indicates that a higher dietary linoleic acid intake does not increase the incidence or shorten the latency period of breast cancer in the Balb/c-MMTV mouse strain at two different dietary fat levels.