The development of human breast cancer is characterized by a variety of genetic alterations, and cytogenetic analyses have documented the consistent involvement of both arms of chromosome 1. In the present study, molecular markers detecting restriction fragment length polymorphisms were used in pairwise screening of normal and tumor DNA to determine the frequency of allelic imbalance in breast tumors. Loss of heterozygosity (LOH) in the polymorphic epithelial mucin (PEM or MUCI) gene at 1q21 was found in 16% of 89 informative (constitutionally heterozygous) cases, whereas gain in intensity of one allelic band was more frequent (37%), a total of 47% of cases manifesting either allelic loss or gain. Three additional tumors manifested a structural alteration. Allelic loss or gain in the PEM gene was not associated with other prognostic factors, e.g., tumor size, lymph node status, steroid receptors. DNA ploidy, S phase fraction, protooncogene amplification, histological type, or patient age. However, LOH in the PEM gene was significantly correlated with early disease recurrence (P = 0.006). LOH on 1p was found in 27% of 117 informative cases, using probes for either D1S57 or D1Z2 located at 1p33-p35 and 1p36, respectively. Somatic allelic imbalance on 1p and 1q seemed to be independent events and not the effect of loss of a whole chromosome 1. LOH on 1p was significantly correlated to the presence of lymph node metastasis, to larger tumor size, and to DNA nondiploidy, but not correlation was found to disease outcome at this limited duration of follow-up (median 29 months).