A series of 23 primary invasive and 7 metastatic carcinomas was examined by light microscopy (LM), transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and immunofluorescence (IF), the latter employing an anti-actin antibody. The results were correlated with macroscopic features such as retraction and consistency. Stromal cells rich in actin, readily identified by IF in firm and retracted carcinomas, were rare or absent in neoplasms lacking these features. TEM established the myofibroblastic nature of these stromal cells. Alternate sections (LM, IF) of each neoplasm demonstrated that myofibroblasts were more numerous in "young" mesenchymal stroma than in densely sclerotic areas. The connective tissue adjacent to intraductal mammary carcinoma lacked myofibroblasts, suggesting that epithelial stromal invasion is required to evoke a myofibroblastic stromal response. Myofibroblasts which possess synthetic (type III collagen) and contractile properties may well contribute to the firm consistency and retraction which characterize many carcinomas. The induction of myofibroblasts might represent an important host stromal response directed toward containment of invasive and/or metastatic carcinoma. This response may be especially important in neoplasms with weak antigenicity and/or slow doubling times.