A cDNA library constructed from mRNA from a human breast carcinoma metastasis was screened with a polyclonal antibody to deglycosylated human milk fat globule membrane, resulting in the isolation of eight clones from a total of 10(5) plaques. One of these (J16) was identified as lactoferrin. It was highly expressed (as a 2.5 Kb mRNA) in lactating breast and in both normal resting tissue taken from adjacent to carcinoma or from reduction mammoplasties. Immunoreactive lactoferrin was localised to ductal cells and their secretions in both normal and mildly hyperplastic ducts. In a normal tissue screen J16 was highly expressed in stomach, poorly in skin and lymphocytes and absent from other organs examined. It was variably expressed in 33/59 invasive primary breast tumours; lactoferrin protein in these was heterogeneously distributed in epithelial tumour foci. Presence of J16 was inversely related to expression of oestrogen receptor protein (P = 0.0001). There was no significant relationship to other clinical parameters. We also found immunoreactivity in 20/41 (49%) cases of ductal carcinoma in situ. Expression was not observed in any breast or gastric cell line examined. Thus lactoferrin appears to be down regulated in some forms of cancer. The presence of lactoferrin could be a contraindication for effective endocrine therapy.