Intracystic papillary carcinomas (IPC) of the breast have traditionally been considered to be variants of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). However, it is not clear if all lesions categorized histologically as IPC are truly in situ carcinomas, or if some such lesions might represent circumscribed or encapsulated nodules of invasive papillary carcinoma. Given that the demonstration of a myoepithelial cell (MEC) layer around nests of carcinoma cells is a useful means to distinguish in situ from invasive carcinomas of the breast in problematic cases, assessment of the presence or absence of a MEC layer at the periphery of the nodules that comprise these lesions could help resolve this issue. We studied the presence and distribution of MEC at the periphery of the nodules of 22 IPC and, for comparison, 15 benign intraductal papillomas using immunostaining for 5 highly sensitive markers that recognize various MEC components: smooth muscle myosin heavy chain, calponin, p63, CD10, and cytokeratin 5/6. All 22 lesions categorized as IPC showed complete absence of MEC at the periphery of the nodules with all 5 markers. In contrast, a MEC layer was detected around foci of conventional DCIS present adjacent to the nodules of IPC. Furthermore, all benign intraductal papillomas, including those of sizes comparable to those of IPC, showed a MEC layer around virtually the entire periphery of the lesion with all 5 MEC markers. In conclusion we could not detect a MEC layer at the periphery of the nodules of any of 22 lesions categorized histologically as IPC. One possible explanation for this observation is that these are in situ lesions in which the delimiting MEC layer has become markedly attenuated or altered with regard to expression of these antigens, perhaps due to their compression by the expansile growth of these lesions within a cystically dilated duct. Alternatively, it may be that at least some lesions that have been categorized as IPC using conventional histologic criteria actually represent circumscribed, encapsulated nodules of invasive papillary carcinoma. Regardless of whether these lesions are in situ or invasive carcinomas, available outcome data indicate that they seem to have an excellent prognosis with adequate local therapy alone. Therefore, we believe it is most prudent to continue to manage patients with these lesions as they are currently managed (ie, similar to patients with DCIS) and to avoid categorization of such lesions as frankly invasive papillary carcinomas. Given our observations, we favor the term "encapsulated papillary carcinoma" over "intracystic papillary carcinoma" for circumscribed nodules of papillary carcinoma surrounded by a fibrous capsule in which a peripheral layer of MEC is not identifiable.