Mitogenic and growth inhibitory signals influence the activity of a family of cyclin dependent kinases (cdks). p27 is an important cdk inhibitor, acting in G1 to inhibit cyclin-cdks. As negative growth regulators, the cdk inhibitors may function as tumor suppressors. While the p16 gene plays a tumor suppressor role in cancers, p27 gene mutations have been identified only rarely. While high levels of p27 protein are expressed in normal human mammary epithelium, loss of p27 is frequent and is of independent prognostic significance in breast cancers. Low p27 is also a poor prognostic factor in colon, gastric, esophageal, lung, and prostate carcinomas, and enhanced proteasomal degradation may underlie loss of p27 in tumor cells. Loss of p27 has not been significantly correlated with tumor proliferation in a number of studies and may reflect alterations in differentiation and adhesion-dependent growth regulation germane to oncogenesis and tumor progression. Efforts to confirm the prognostic value of p27 are under way in a number of large breast cancer studies. These studies may also indicate whether loss of p27 in association with other traditional or novel markers has greater prognostic potential than each factor alone. p27 immunostaining is inexpensive and reliable and may become part of the routine histopathologic processing of tumors in the near future. Widespread application of p27 in prognostic testing will require greater uniformity in scoring techniques and determination of the cut off levels which distinguish individuals at high and low risk of cancer recurrence and death. Finally, the greatest utility of p27 may lie in the information it sheds on the biology of aberrant growth regulation in breast cancer and the potential to use this in the generation of novel therapeutic strategies.