The Epstein–Barr virus (EBV) is associated with several human tumours including lymphoid and epithelial malignancies. Most EBV-associated tumours are rare or occur at higher incidence only in certain geographical regions. The recently reported detection of EBV in gastric, breast, and hepatocellular carcinomas raises the possibility of involvement of the virus in the pathogenesis of common cancers. This article reviews the evidence linking EBV infection to epithelial tumours. It is concluded that at present, there is no convincing evidence to suggest that breast carcinoma and hepatocellular carcinoma are EBV-associated tumours. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.