Current clinical management of breast cancer relies on the availability of robust clinicopathological variables and few well-defined biological markers. Recent microarray-based expression profiling studies have emphasised the importance of the molecular portraits of breast cancer and the possibility of classifying breast cancer into biologically and molecularly distinct groups. Subsequent large scale immunohistochemical studies have demonstrated that the added value of studying the molecular biomarker expression in combination rather than individually. Oestrogen (ER) and progesterone (PR) receptors and HER2 are currently used in routine pathological assessment of breast cancer. Additional biomarkers such as proliferation markers and 'basal' markers are likely to be included in the future. A better understanding of the prognostic and predictive value of combinatorial assessment of biomarker expression could lead to improved breast cancer management in routine clinical practice and would add to our knowledge concerning the variation in behaviour and response to therapy. Here, we review the evidence on the value of assessing biomarker expression in breast cancer individually and in combination and its relation to the recent molecular classification of breast cancer.