Breast cancer proliferative capacity as determined by the DNA thymidine labeling index, along with estrogen and progesterone receptor status, is highly predictive for risk of relapse and overall survival. Recently, DNA ploidy and proliferative capacity (S-phase fraction [SPF]) as determined by flow cytometry have also shown significant prognostic value. The authors have developed a technique which allows a 50 to 100 mg aliquot of the same frozen breast tumor specimen routinely employed in steroid receptor assays, to be assayed for both DNA ploidy and SPF by flow cytometry. Of the 1331 tumors examined, DNA histograms were evaluable for ploidy in 89% (1184) of specimens examined; 57% of these were aneuploid. Adapting a trapezoidal model to estimate SPF in both diploid and aneuploid tumors, the authors found 81% (1084) to be evaluable for SPF, with a median SPF of 5.8% for the entire population. The median SPF was significantly lower in diploid tumors (2.6%) than in aneuploid tumors (10.3%, P less than 0.0001). Both aneuploidy and high SPF were strongly associated with absence of steroid receptors. Aneuploid tumors showed more striking differences in the frequency of high S-phase values with respect to receptor status and age or menopausal status, whereas diploid but not aneuploid tumors showed lower SPF in node-negative versus node-positive patients. Because it is particularly important to identify the high-risk minority of node-negative patients, the authors examined the node-negative group separately. High SPF subgroups appeared in each category of receptor status and age or menopausal status within the node-negative group, suggesting that SPF will be an independent prognostic factor. With the DNA flow cytometric methods used here, it is now practical to determine ploidy and SPF for nearly every breast cancer patient. These factors, which show associations with established prognostic factors, such as receptor status can now be fully evaluated for their prognostic significance in broad patient populations.