Most epithelial hyperplasias of the human breast indicate an increased likelihood of carcinoma development, and the majority are best understood as markers or indicators of higher risk. Prospective studies of women with hyperplasia biopsied in the premammographic era indicate that about 70 per cent of women had mild or no hyperplastic epithelial alterations and experienced no increase in the risk of subsequent carcinoma. About 25 per cent of women had well-developed hyperplastic changes associated with a risk 1.5 to 2.0 times that of the general population controlled for age and length of follow-up. Somewhat fewer than 5 per cent of women had specific patterns of atypical hyperplasia that approached the patterns of carcinoma in situ. The women with atypical hyperplasia had a risk of cancer four to five times that of the general population, or about half the risk associated with microscopic carcinoma in situ. Only ductal carcinoma in situ should be considered without question to be an intrinsically precancerous lesion because of its regular association with recurrence at the site of its initial diagnosis. No follow-up studies of comparable type involving women with mammographically detected lesions are as yet available. However, it is clear that the incidence of atypical hyperplasia is higher in mammographically directed biopsies. The principal therapeutic implication of these premalignant lesions is a need for intensified breast cancer surveillance and screening for these patients.