PURPOSE/OBJECTIVES: To identify differences in African American and white women's health beliefs and practices regarding early detection of breast cancer. DESIGN AND SETTING: Descriptive survey of educators employed by one public school system in one southern state. SAMPLE: One hundred seventeen African American and 157 white female professional educators. METHODS: Subjects completed a survey questionnaire consisting of investigator-developed items and an adapted version of Champion's Health Belief Model Scales. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Reported frequency of use of mammography, clinical breast examination (CBE), and breast self-examination (BSE); health beliefs about these procedures. FINDINGS: No significant difference in frequency of use of mammography and CBE was found between the two groups. The difference for BSE frequency approached significance (p = 0.058); African American women had performed BSE significantly more times (p = 0.028) than white women during the preceding 12 months. White women had a significantly higher mean score (p = 0.002) for barriers to mammography. The difference between the two groups for barriers to CBE and control with CBE reached the 0.05 level of significance; in both cases, white women had the higher mean score. No significant difference was found in mean scores for beliefs about BSE. CONCLUSIONS: The contribution of health beliefs about breast cancer, mammography, CBE, and BSE to frequency of use of these procedures by race remains unclear. IMPLICATIONS: Efforts to inform women of the need to adopt an early breast cancer detection program should continue. Additional studies are needed to validate present study findings and to expand the knowledge base for healthcare providers.