With the use of data from the hospital-based epidemiologic research program at Aichi Cancer Center (HERPACC), the effect of body size on the risk of breast cancer was evaluated among Japanese women, who are generally leaner than white women. In total, 1,359 breast-cancer cases were included, and 24,207 women, confirmed as free of cancer, were recruited as a reference group. Odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) were determined by multiple-logistic regression analysis. Separate analyses were performed for pre- and post-menopausal women. Furthermore, stratification by decade of age was done to evaluate the effect of body size on the development of breast cancer. The results obtained from the present study were as follows. (1) Current body-mass index (BMI) was positively associated with post-menopausal breast cancer (OR 2.08, 95% CI 1.49–2.92 for highest quintile vs. lowest), although higher BMI did not affect the risk in pre-menopausal women. (2) Estimates of risk were below unity for BMI at around age 20 in post-menopausal women. (3) After stratifying BMI at around age 20, gaining BMI in later life was positively associated with increased risk, regardless of BMI in early life. These findings suggest that avoidance of marked weight gain during adult life, especially after natural menopause and/or after age 60, may reduce the risk of breast cancer. Int. J. Cancer 80:349–355, 1999. © 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.