Aluminium is not a physiological component of the breast but has been measured recently in human breast tissues and breast cyst fluids at levels above those found in blood serum or milk. Since the presence of aluminium can lead to iron dyshomeostasis, levels of aluminium and iron-binding proteins (ferritin, transferrin) were measured in nipple aspirate fluid (NAF), a fluid present in the breast duct tree and mirroring the breast microenvironment. NAFs were collected noninvasively from healthy women (NoCancer; n = 16) and breast cancer-affected women (Cancer; n = 19), and compared with levels in serum (n = 15) and milk (n = 45) from healthy subjects. The mean level of aluminium, measured by ICP-mass spectrometry, was significantly higher in Cancer NAF (268.4 ± 28.1 μg l−1; n = 19) than in NoCancer NAF (131.3 ± 9.6 μg l−1; n = 16; P < 0.0001). The mean level of ferritin, measured through immunoassay, was also found to be higher in Cancer NAF (280.0 ± 32.3 μg l−1) than in NoCancer NAF (55.5 ± 7.2 μg l−1), and furthermore, a positive correlation was found between levels of aluminium and ferritin in the Cancer NAF (correlation coefficient R = 0.94, P < 0.001). These results may suggest a role for raised levels of aluminium and modulation of proteins that regulate iron homeostasis as biomarkers for identification of women at higher risk of developing breast cancer. The reasons for the high levels of aluminium in NAF remain unknown but possibilities include either exposure to aluminium-based antiperspirant salts in the adjacent underarm area and/or preferential accumulation of aluminium by breast tissues. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.