This study was planned to evaluate the feasibility of using the assay of leukocyte arylsulfatase-A (AS-A) activity as a noninvasive diagnostic tool in patients with benign and malignant breast disease. The leukocyte AS-A activity of a total of 81 women was analyzed, including 28 healthy women, 29 women with benign breast disease (BBD) and 24 patients with primary breast cancer (BC). The mean leukocyte AS-A activity in patients with BBD was slightly higher (14.38) that observed in the healthy subjects, but the difference was not statistically significant. In patients with BC the enzyme activity was significantly higher than in the healthy subjects (60.3%, P < 0.05) and in the benign group (40.2%, P < 0.05). In addition, since no significant differences have been observed between premenopausal patients and their controls, it is suggested that the measurement of leukocyte AS-A activity may not be a reliable test for differential diagnosis of benign and malignant proliferation in mammary glands due to the possible interfering effect of gonadal hormones on AS-A activity. In contrast, since peri- and postmenopausal BC patients have negligible or no gonadal activity function, the elevation in the activity of leukocyte AS-A in these age groups of patients may only be expected to originate from malignant proliferation. Based on our results, it is concluded that in patients in whom high leukocyte AS-A activities were observed the possibility of the presence of malignancy might also be high. Therefore, this test might be valuable as a non-invasive biochemical technique in combination with other established markers for the identification of masses in the breast. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.