We investigated whether there is an association between cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Epstein–Barr virus (EBV) IgG levels and risk of breast cancer before age 40 years. CMV and EBV IgG levels were measured in stored plasma from 208 women with breast cancer and 169 controls who participated in the Australian Breast Cancer Family Study (ABCFS), a population-based case–control study. CMV and EBV IgG values were measured in units of optical density (OD). Cases and controls did not differ in seropositivity for CMV (59 and 57% respectively; P=0.8) or EBV (97 and 96% respectively; P=0.7). In seropositive women, mean IgG values were higher in cases than controls for CMV (1.20 vs 0.98 OD, P=0.005) but not for EBV (2.65 vs 2.57 OD, P=0.5). The adjusted odds ratios per OD unit were 1.46 (95% CI 1.06–2.03) for CMV IgG and 1.11 (0.93–1.33) for EBV IgG. The higher mean CMV IgG levels found in women with breast cancer could be the result of a more recent infection with CMV, and may mean that late exposure to CMV is a risk factor for breast cancer.