C-erbB-2 and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) genes were independently shown to be associated with breast cancer progression. In this report, we have analyzed the structure and expression of these 2 genes in the same tumor specimens of a large series of breast cancers. Two clinical types of tumor were studied: inflammatory (IBC) and non-inflammatory breast cancers (NBC) obtained from 221 untreated patients at different clinical stages. Amplification and over-expression of the c-erbB-2 proto-oncogene were observed in 27% and 47% of tumors, respectively, and were strongly associated with breast cancers of the most unfavorable prognosis, namely IBC and NBC with multiple positive axillary nodes. EGFR gene was neither amplified nor rearranged. A restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) for HindIII endonuclease was observed. EGFR transcripts were detected in 46% of tumors and observed more frequently in IBC than in NBC (p less than 0.02). In NBC the presence of EGFR transcripts increased linearly with lymph-node involvement and was associated with estrogen-receptor-negative tumors (p = 0.01). Analysis of both genes from the same tumor samples indicated that genes are associated with cancer aggressiveness. Furthermore, in NBC these 2 genes were independently activated, in contrast to IBC in which activated genes were negatively correlated, suggesting that c-erbB-2 and EGFR genes play different roles in NBC and IBC.