The relationship between expression of receptors for oestrogen and progesterone (ER and PR) and disease progression in breast cancer was investigated by comparing immunocytochemical determinations of ER and PR in fine needle aspirates from primary and secondary breast tumours. Rates of receptor expression were significantly higher in primary than in secondary lesions: for ER 63.3% (n = 689) compared with 45.3% (n = 223), and for PR 53.7% (n = 443) compared with 33.1% (n = 121). The effect of menopausal status was examined by subdividing the patient cohort into those over or under the age of 50 years. In both instances, ER expression in secondary tumours was relatively low; however, only postmenopausal patients had significantly lower rates of PR expression in secondary tumours. Consistent with this, an increase in the ER+PR- profile in secondary tumours compared with primary cases from postmenopausal patients was seen, and in a multivariate analysis, a specific absence of PR expression in secondary tumours was revealed. Comparison of ER and PR expression in simultaneously sampled primary tumours and lymph node metastases from the same patient showed that receptor expression was stable with progression to a metastatic site as results were concordant for ER in 92% (n = 88) and PR in 93.8% of cases (n = 65). These results suggest that absence of PR expression in primary breast cancer is associated with disease progression and may be a marker of an aggressive tumour phenotype.