Recent advances in steroid receptor structure and function now indicate that oestrogen binds to the oestrogen receptor (ER) molecule at a specific site, denoted region E. This allows binding of the oestrogen-ER complex to DNA via cysteine residues in region C of the ER molecule, which tetrahedrally co-ordinate zinc. This modulates transcription and stimulates cell growth. A number of newly discovered growth factors are also regulated by ER, as is the progesterone receptor. Steroid receptor concentrations in tissues can now be measured on smaller tissue samples using enzyme immunoassay or on cells obtained by fine needle aspiration using monoclonal antibody technology. The prognostic value of steroid receptor is limited, but still constitutes the best marker for predicting response to endocrine therapy. The role of steroid receptors in selecting patients for adjuvant therapy is discussed.