Expression of IGF-I and IGF-II was studied in human breast cancer tissues by in situ hybridization. IGF-I mRNA was detected only in stromal cells adjacent to normal breast epithelial cells. Stromal cells associated with the tumor cells did not contain IGF-I, nor did malignant or benign breast epithelial cells. In contrast, IGF-II mRNA was found in both the malignant epithelial cells and their adjacent stromal cells. These data imply that stromal cells associated with breast epithelium may switch expression from IGF-I to IGF-II during breast cancer evolution. This appearance of IGF-II expression may identify cancer-associated stromal cells that have a fetal phenotype.