BACKGROUND: Bone mineral density and mammographic breast density are each associated with markers of lifetime estrogen exposure. The association between mammographic breast density and bone mineral density in early perimenopausal women is unknown. METHODS: We analyzed data from a cohort (n = 501) of premenopausal (no change in menstrual regularity) and early perimenopausal (decreased menstrual regularity in past 3 months) participants of African-American, Caucasian, Chinese, and Japanese ethnicity in the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation. Using multivariable linear regression, we examined the cross-sectional association between percent mammographic density and bone mineral density (BMD). RESULTS: Percent mammographic density was statistically significantly inversely associated with hip BMD and lumbar spine BMD after adjustment (body mass index, ethnicity, age, study site, parity, alcohol intake, cigarette smoking, physical activity, age at first childbirth) in early perimenopausal, but not premenopausal, women. In early perimenopausal women, every 0.1g/cm(2) greater hip BMD predicted a 2% lower percent mammographic density (95% confidence interval -37.0 to -0.6%, p = 0.04). CONCLUSION: Mammographic breast density is inversely associated with BMD in the perimenopausal participants of this community-based cohort. The biological underpinnings of these findings may reflect differential responsiveness of breast and bone mineral density to the steroid milieu.