We investigated the expression of membrane type-1 (MT1)-MMP, MMP2, MMP9 and TIMP2 mRNAs and their roles in ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and T1 and T2 invasive ductal carcinoma of the breast. We further compared these two types of carcinomas for differences in microvessel density, and expression of angiogenic factors and CD44std. MT1-MMP, MMP2, MMP9 and TIMP2 mRNA were expressed in both DCIS and invasive ductal carcinomas. Expression rates of MT1-MMP, MMP2, MMP9 and TIMP2 mRNAs were not statistically different between DCIS and invasive ductal carcinomas, nor did they differ statistically when grouped by tumor size, histologic grade or nuclear grade of invasive ductal carcinoma. Microvessel density and expression of VEGF and TGF-beta1 were not statistically different between DCIS and invasive ductal carcinoma. CD44std expression was significantly increased in DCIS compared to invasive ductal carcinoma (p < 0.05) and it was also significantly increased in lower clinical stage, histologic grade and nuclear grade of invasive ductal carcinoma (p < 0.05). Axillary node metastasis was significantly correlated with MT1-MMP mRNA, VEGF and TGF-beta1 expression (p < 0.05) and MT1-MMP mRNA was positively correlated with VEGF expression and TIMP2 mRNA (p < 0.05). In summary, patterns of MMP mRNA expression in DCIS and invasive ductal carcinoma suggest that the invasive potential of breast carcinoma is already achieved before morphologically overt invasive growth is observed. As MT1-MMP mRNA expression is significantly correlated with axillary nodal metastasis, it may be useful as a prognostic indicator of invasive ductal carcinoma. Considering the positive correlation of MT1-MMP mRNA and TIMP2mRNA expression, our finding supports a role for TIMP2 in tumor growth, as well as the utility of CD44std as a prognostic indicator of breast cancer.