MicroRNAs (miRNAs) in body fluids are candidate diagnostics for a variety of conditions and diseases, including breast cancer. One premise for using extracellular miRNAs to diagnose disease is the notion that the abundance of the miRNAs in body fluids reflects their abundance in the abnormal cells causing the disease. As a result, the search for such diagnostics in body fluids has focused on miRNAs that are abundant in the cells of origin. Here we report that released miRNAs do not necessarily reflect the abundance of miRNA in the cell of origin. We find that release of miRNAs from cells into blood, milk and ductal fluids is selective and that the selection of released miRNAs may correlate with malignancy. In particular, the bulk of miR-451 and miR-1246 produced by malignant mammary epithelial cells was released, but the majority of these miRNAs produced by non-malignant mammary epithelial cells was retained. Our findings suggest the existence of a cellular selection mechanism for miRNA release and indicate that the extracellular and cellular miRNA profiles differ. This selective release of miRNAs is an important consideration for the identification of circulating miRNAs as biomarkers of disease.