BACKGROUND: Until recently, the molecular mechanisms explaining increased incidence of ovarian and breast cancers in carriers of BRCA1 gene mutations had not been clearly understood. Of significance is the finding that BRCA1 negatively regulates aromatase expression in vitro. Our objective was to characterise aromatase gene (CYP19A1) and its promoter expression in breast adipose and ovarian tissue in BRCA1 mutation carriers and unaffected controls. METHODS: We measured aromatase transcripts, total and promoter-specific (PII, PI.3, PI.4) in prophylactic oophorectomy or mastectomy, therapeutic mastectomy, ovarian and breast tissue from unaffected women. RESULTS: We demonstrate that the lack of functional BRCA1 protein correlates to higher aromatase levels in 85% of BRCA1 mutation carriers. This increase is mediated by aberrant transcriptional regulation of aromatase; in breast adipose by increases in promoter II/I.3 and I.4-specific transcripts; and in the ovary with elevation in promoter I.3 and II-specific transcripts. CONCLUSION: Understanding the link between BRCA1 and aromatase is significant in terms of understanding why carcinogenesis is restricted to estrogen-producing tissues in BRCA1 mutation carriers.