Background Isotope-coded affinity tag (ICAT) tandem mass spectrometry (MS) allows for qualitative and quantitative analysis of paired protein samples. We sought to determine whether ICAT technology could quantify and identify differential expression of tumor-specific proteins in nipple aspirate fluid (NAF) from the tumor-bearing and contralateral disease-free breasts of patients with unilateral early-stage breast cancer. Methods Paired NAF samples from 18 women with stage I or II unilateral invasive breast carcinoma and 4 healthy volunteers were analyzed using ICAT labeling, sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel (SDS-PAGE), liquid chromatography, and MS. Proteins were identified by sequence database analysis. Western blot analysis of NAF from an independent sample set from 12 women (8 with early-stage breast cancer and 4 healthy volunteers) was also performed. Results 353 peptides were identified from tandem mass spectra and matched to peptide sequences in the National Center for Biotechnology Information database. Equal numbers of peptides were up- versus down-regulated. Alpha2HS-glycoprotein [Heavy:Light (H:L) ratio 0.63] was underexpressed in NAF from tumor-bearing breasts, while lipophilin B (H:L ratio 1.42), beta-globin (H:L ratio 1.98), hemopexin (H:L ratio 1.73), and vitamin D-binding protein precursor (H:L ratio 1.82) were overexpressed. Western blot analysis of pooled samples of NAF from healthy volunteers versus NAF from women with breast cancer confirmed the overexpression of vitamin D-binding protein in tumor-bearing breasts. Conclusion ICAT tandem MS was able to identify and quantify differences in specific protein expression between NAF samples from tumor-bearing and disease-free breasts. Proteomic screening techniques using ICAT and NAF may be used to find markers for diagnosis of breast cancer.