Loss of E-cadherin and catenin expression may be associated with distant and lymph node metastases in breast cancer. Heterogeneity of E-cadherin expression is associated with poor prognosis, suggesting that E-cadherin and catenins may serve as useful prognostic markers for invasive breast carcinoma. Reduction or loss of expression of either E-cadherin or catenins is associated with invasion, metastasis and poor prognosis in several types of human malignancies. We investigated the expression of E-cadherin, and alpha- and beta-catenins by immunohistochemistry in 171 cases of primary invasive breast cancer, and compared the expression with clinicopathological parameters to define the relationship between expression and prognosis. E-cadherin immunoreactive protein was shown to be expressed in 97 cases. Reduction or lack of expression of E-cadherin was associated with distant metastasis. Based on immunohistochemical heterogeneity, E-cadherin-positive tumors were classified into heterogeneous, homogeneous and intermediate types. Interestingly, although patients with heterogeneous type demonstrated the lowest incidence of distant metastasis at diagnosis, they showed a higher incidence of subsequent distant metastasis, after surgery, and a lower survival rate than those with homogeneous type (p<0.05). E-cadherin expression was reduced or negative in metastatic axillary lymph nodes regardless of the expression in the primary tumor, suggesting that changes in E-cadherin expression are associated with not only distant metastasis but also lymph node metastasis. Tumors negative for either alpha- or beta-catenin expression demonstrated a higher incidence of distant metastasis than those expressing both catenins, suggesting that the expression of catenins is involved in breast cancer metastasis. Reduction or loss of E-cadherin and catenin expression may be associated with distant and lymph node metastases in invasive breast cancer, and the heterogeneous type may be associated with poor prognosis.