Improved prognostic and predictive markers in breast cancer management would help considerably in therapeutic decision making, particularly in patients with early-stage breast cancer. Tumor factors currently used for prognostication and management decisions are tumor size, histologic type and grade, axillary lymph node status, and estrogen receptor content. The discovery of various somatic genetic alterations in breast cancer has raised the possibility that these may provide additional and independent prognostic and predictive information. Alterations of the p53 tumor suppressor gene in particular have received the most attention as potential prognostic and predictive factors. In multivariate analysis, p53 gene mutation is consistently associated with a two- to threefold increased risk of relapse and death from breast cancer. One of the major reasons preventing the introduction of p53 mutation as a routine marker to assist in therapeutic decision making is the lack of a simple, reproducible, and inexpensive assay. In the present study the authors optimized a polymerase chain reaction-based mutation screening method, fluorescence-single strand conformation polymorphism (F-SSCP), that allows p53 status to be assessed accurately and reproducibly in routinely handled, formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded tumor specimens. The frequency of p53 mutation observed using F-SSCP in a consecutive series of invasive ductal breast carcinomas was 17% (28/164). The authors propose that the prognostic and predictive values of p53 mutation in breast cancer should be further evaluated in prospective, randomized studies using this standardized technique.