Energy restriction remains one of the most effective ways known to prevent breast cancer in animal models. However, energy intake has not been consistently associated with risk of breast cancer in humans. In a prospective study, we assessed whether energy intake, body size, and physical activity each independently influence breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women and estimated the joint effect of combinations of these individual factors. As part of the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial, 38,660 women, ages 55 to 74 years and recruited from 10 centers in the United States during 1993 to 2001, were randomized to the screening arm of the trial. At baseline, the women completed a self-administered questionnaire, including a food frequency questionnaire. During follow-up from 1993 to 2003, 764 incident breast cancer cases were ascertained. Women in the highest quartile of energy intake (> or = 2,084 kcal/d) compared with those in the lowest quartile (<1,316 kcal/d) had a significantly increased risk for breast cancer [multivariate relative risk (RR), 1.25; 95% confidence interval (95% CI), 1.02-1.53; P(trend continuous) = 0.03]. Current body mass index (BMI) was also positively and significantly associated with risk (multivariate RR comparing >30 kg/m2 with <22.5 kg/m2, 1.35; 95% CI, 1.06-1.70; P(trend) = 0.01). Women with > or = 4 hours/wk of vigorous recreational physical activity had a significantly reduced risk of breast cancer compared with those who reported no recreational physical activity (multivariate RR, 0.78; 95% CI, 0.60-0.99; P(trend) = 0.15). None of these associations with individual energy balance measures was substantially confounded by the other two measures. When we estimated the joint effect of all three variables, women with the most unfavorable energy balance (the highest energy intake, highest BMI, and least physical activity) had twice the risk (RR, 2.10; 95% CI, 1.27-3.45) of women with the most favorable energy balance (the lowest energy intake, lowest BMI, and most physical activity). Although our estimates of absolute energy intake, based on a food frequency questionnaire, are imperfect, these results suggest that energy intake, in addition to BMI and physical activity may be independently associated with breast cancer risk. In addition, these three aspects of energy balance may act jointly in determining breast cancer risk.