The progression of breast cancer growth and its ability to metastasize are associated with the process of angiogenesis. In this study, we examined the protein expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and its specific and functional receptor KDR in human breast tissue. We investigated a total of 13 mammary carcinomas, 3 fibroadenomas, 5 specimens with fibrocystic breast disease as well as normal (adjacent to malignant) breast tissue using immunohistochemistry and Western blot analysis. In all carcinomas examined, functional KDR protein was present independent of tumor type, tumor stage and histological grade as demonstrated by tyrosine phosphorylation analysis of KDR. When malignant tissues were compared with their neighboring non-neoplastic regions, activated KDR was found to be expressed to a much higher extent within the malignant tissue samples. In fibroadenomas, KDR was barely detectable, whereas in fibrocystic breast disease KDR expression was variable. Immunostaining of KDR was localized to endothelium and epithelium of mammary ducts in malignant and benign breast tissue, while VEGF immunoreactivity was primarily found in the endothelium and also in tumor cells and macrophages. Our data demonstrate that KDR activation is enhanced in breast cancer in vivo and emphasize the functional role of VEGF and KDR in the development of malignant breast disease.