Breast cancer incidence increases with age but this relationship has not been fully explored with regard to expression of estrogen receptor (ER) and ER-inducible genes (PR, pS2, Bc12, cathepsin D), or the age-dependence of oxidant stress markers that also affect ER-inducible gene expression. In this three-part study, we first correlated age at diagnosis with expression of breast cancer markers ER, PR, pS2, Bc12, and cathepsin D, quantitated by enzyme immunoassays from a European collective of ∼3000 cryobanked primary breast cancers and ∼300 adjacent non-malignant breast tissues. Results were then compared with ER and PR data reported to the SEER registry for 83,541 US cancers diagnosed during 1992-1997. Lastly, a homogeneous subset of 70 ER-positive tumors preselected from the European collective was blindly analyzed for age-specific changes in the DNA-binding content of redox-sensitive transcriprtion factors, AP1 and Sp1, and the oxidant stress-activated protein kinase, phosphorylated(P)-Erk5. Increases in breast tumor ER from patients aged <30 to >80 years mirrored 10-fold lower increases in non-malignant breast tissue ER content up to age 60, rising faster thereafter and reaching a near 25-fold differential between malignant and non-malignant breast tissue by age 80. ER-inducible markers PR, pS2, Bc12, and cathepsin D were overexpressed in tumors relative to non-malignant breast tissue but, unlike ER, did not increase with patient age. While SEER data demonstrated that the increase in US breast cancer incidence rates after age 50 is confined to ER-positive tumors in patients of all ethnic subsets, these patients also showed a striking increase in the proportion of higher-risk ER-positive/PR-negative breast cancers arising after age 50. Mechanistically essential for ER-inducible PR expression, Sp1 DNA-binding function (but not Sp1 content) was lost with age in ER-positive tumors; and this functional defect correlated with increased tumor content of the oxidant stress marker, P-Erk5. Altogether these findings support two hypotheses: (i) dysregulated ER expression underlies the age-specific increase in breast cancer incidence after age 50; and (ii) oxidative stress and loss of Sp1 DNA-binding may contribute to an increasing incidence in higher-risk ER-positive/PR-negative breast cancers with aging.