Since the few data exploring a possible association between Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and breast cancer are conflicting, we investigated this association together with the influences of geographical areas. 509 breast cancers were sampled from areas with varying risks of nasopharynx carcinoma (NPC) such as North Africa (Algeria and Tunisia, high-risk area); southern France (Marseille, intermediate-risk area); and northern Europe (northern France, the Netherlands and Denmark; low-risk areas). Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) of a subregion of EBV BamHIC encoding the EBERs demonstrated that 31.8% of the tumours contained the viral genome. No significant differences were observed among the geographical areas. However, positive samples showed higher loads of the EBV genome in the NPC high- and intermediate-risk areas than in the low-risk areas. EBV type 1 was the dominant strain. In situ hybridization studies using a(35)S-labelled riboprobe for EBER1 and a laser capture microdissection, combined with quantitative PCR, showed that EBV localization was restricted to some tumour epithelial cell clusters. EBV could not be detected in the stroma. Considering the whole population covered, the presence of the EBV genome was not correlated with age, menopausal status, tumour, size, nodal status or histological grade.