Amplification of HER-2 oncogene was analysed in DNAs obtained from 291 primary human mammary carcinomas. 52/291 (18%) were found to contain amplified HER-2 oncogene. Moderate amplification (2- to 5-fold) was noted in 36/291 (12%). Thirteen tumors (4.5%) had a copy number of 5 to 10. A 10- to 20-fold and greater than 20-fold amplification was observed in 2 and 1 patient, respectively. Sample sizes allowed the determination of estrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone receptor (PgR) levels in 253/291 primary breast cancers. HER-2 gene amplification was noted in 14% of ER+ patients and in 28% of ER- patients, respectively (P = 0.02). Similarly a significantly greater number of PgR- primary mammary carcinoma exhibited an amplification of the HER-2 gene compared to PgR+ cases (22% vs. 16%, P = 0.01). Although statistically not significant, tumors with HER-2 gene amplification were found to have lower levels of ER and PgR. No association of HER-2 amplification with the androgen receptor and EGF receptor was observed. Present data combine to suggest that tumor progression is more stringently controlled by the oncogene upon loss of hormone dependency. Differences found in HER-2 amplification between steroid receptor positive and negative tumors could be helpful to define a specific subset of women to whom adjuvant therapy should be directed.