We have used primary endocrine therapy for 61 elderly women with operable breast cancer (median age 77 years). Eleven patients (18%) had complete and 24 (39%) partial tumour regression, 12 (20%) had stable disease for a minimum of six months and 14 (23%) no response. Salvage surgery was undertaken in the 14 with no response and 8/9 with progressive disease following initial response, thus samples were available from relapse patients only. Assays for EGFr (two point radioreceptor assay) and oestrogen receptors (ER) (dextran coated charcoal method and an immunohistochemical method) were performed on 20/22 patients. Ten of these 20 tumours were EGFr+ (greater than 10 fmol mg-1 binding) and 9/13 patients progressing within six months had EGFr+ tumours. 15/22 were available for ER evaluation and there was no such association with ER status. EGFr status was also associated with early recurrence after surgery and death in the endocrine failure group (P less than 0.005 and P less than 0.05 respectively). Of a control population of 33 patients (median age 72 years) treated by primary surgery, only 6 were EGFr+. In this group early relapse was predicted by EGFr status, but not by ER status (median disease free survival for EGFr+ patients 15 months, and for EGFr- patients 40 months, P less than 0.01, logrank test). There was a significantly higher proportion of EGFr+ tumours in the endocrine failure group compared with the control population (P less than 0.001). EGFr status is a marker for rapid early progression on primary endocrine therapy and the development of non-excisional methods of EGFr analysis would allow better directed therapeutic decisions.