The mammary gland is subjected to major morphological and biochemical changes during the lactation cycle. It is therefore not surprising that this dynamic process is strictly controlled. The importance of the sex steroid hormones 17beta-estradiol and progesterone for normal development of the mammary gland was recognized several decades ago and has been unequivocally confirmed since. Furthermore, it is now also established that the influence of sex steroids is not restricted to mammogenesis, but that these hormones also control involution. Another important regulatory role is played by growth factors that have been shown to modulate survival (epidermal growth factor, amphiregulin, transforming growth factor alpha, insulin like growth factor, and tumor necrosis factor alpha) or apoptosis (tumor necrosis factor alpha, transforming growth factor beta) of mammary cells. However, the molecular mechanism underlying the influence of sex steroid hormones and/or growth factors on the development and function of the mammary gland remains largely unknown to date. Also scarce is information on the interaction between both groups of modulators. Nevertheless, based on the current indications compiled in this review, an important functional role for sex steroid hormones in the lactation cycle in co-operation with growth factors can be suggested.