The expression of basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) and two of its receptors, FGFR1 and FGFR2, was detected using the polymerase chain reaction, and quantified by comparison to the relative amount of product obtained following co-amplification of the ubiquitous glyceraldehyde phosphate dehydrogenase transcript. Varying levels were found in the vast majority of both cancer and non-malignant breast biopsies as well as in samples of several other normal human tissues. Significantly less bFGF was present in cancers (P less than 0.0001). Similarly, FGFR2 product was also much less in cancer tissues (P = 0.0078), as was FGFR1 (P = 0.002). FGFR1 levels in cancers tended to be higher in those which were oestrogen receptor positive (P less than 0.06). Amplification of different coding regions showed evidence of variant forms of FGFR1 RNA. Cancers appeared to have a significantly greater proportion of PCR product corresponding to the region between the third immunoglobulin like domain and the tyrosine kinase domain (P = 0.046). Differential expression was observed in breast cell lines, with bFGF in the normal derived HBL100, HBR SV1.6.1 and 184A1 but little or none in ZR-75-1, MCF-7, T47D and MDA-MB-231. FGFR1 was present in most of these but FGFR2 was absent from T47D, MDA-MB-231 and HBL100. ZR-75-1 cells had a marked preponderance of FGFR1 variants lacking part of the coding sequence. Aberrant receptor processing may provide clues concerning the role of FGF's and their potential involvement in malignancy.