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Certain dietary retinoids and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) consistently inhibit progression of mammary carcinogenesis both in animal studies and cell culture, but clinically, their effect is inconsistent. New evidence of synergistic interaction between the nuclear receptors for the two groups of nutritional agents suggests that appropriate selective ligands from each group might be combined in breast cancer chemoprevention studies. Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) gamma is a nuclear receptor that is activated by PUFAs, eicosanoids and antidiabetic agents such as troglitazone. Such activation can cause growth inhibition in human mammary cancer cells in culture and the effect is enhanced by ligands of retinoic acid receptor (RAR) and retinoid X receptor (RXR). In mouse mammary tissue in organ culture, an RXR-selective ligand has been shown to enhance the effect of troglitazone in suppressing carcinogen-induced pre-neoplastic changes. A PPAR/RXR heterodimer is involved in tumour growth inhibition and has been shown to bind directly to nuclear oestrogen response elements (ERE) independently of oestrogen receptor (ER) activity. A combination of an RXR-selective retinoid with either troglitazone or else a long-chain n-3 PUFA, is proposed for a short-term study in postmenopausal women after primary surgery for intraductal breast cancer. The resulting activation of PPAR/RXR expression may increase response to retinoid administration, especially in the presence of obesity and insulin resistance, because of the ability of PPAR gamma ligands to reduce insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) concentrations. Serial core biopsies of breast tissue over a short term are proposed to identify changes in phenotype, which may influence progression to invasiveness. In addition to cytomorphological criteria, expression of ER alpha and beta, RAR alpha and beta, and IGF-I receptor in the nucleus should be examined.