Fine-needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) plays a key role in the preoperative diagnosis of carcinoma of the breast but is less reliable in the diagnosis of infiltrating lobular carcinoma. The method of diagnosis was reviewed in 56 patients with lobular carcinoma who had attended screening and symptomatic clinics. In 29 patients FNAC results demonstrated malignant cells; 15 of these had palpable disease and the mean tumour size was 21 mm. In 27 patients FNAC failed to demonstrate malignant cells; 13 lesions were palpable and the mean tumour size was 23 mm. Ten patients were diagnosed by needle-core biopsy when FNAC was not diagnostic. FNAC may fail to diagnose even large lobular carcinoma and needle-core biopsy is strongly recommended in this situation.