The number of available breast cancer cell (BCC) lines is small, and only a very few of them have been extensively studied. Whether they are representative of the tumours from which they originated remains a matter of debate. Whether their diversity mirrors the well-known inter-tumoural heterogeneity is another essential question. While numerous similarities have long been found between cell lines and tumours, recent technical advances, including the use of micro-arrays and comparative genetic analysis, have brought new data to the discussion. This paper presents most of the BCC lines that have been described in some detail to date. It evaluates the accuracy of the few of them widely used (MCF-7, T-47D, BT-474, SK-BR-3, MDA-MB-231, Hs578T) as tumour models. It is concluded that BCC lines are likely to reflect, to a large extent, the features of cancer cells in vivo. The importance of oestrogen receptor-alpha (gene ESR1 ) and Her-2/ neu ( ERBB2 ) as classifiers for cell lines and tumours is underlined. The recourse to a larger set of cell lines is suggested since the exact origin of some of the widely used lines remains ambiguous. Investigations on additional specific lines are expected to improve our knowledge of BCC and of the dialogue that these maintain with their surrounding normal cells in vivo.