It has recently been established that the extracellular matrix is required for normal functional differentiation of mammary epithelia not only in culture, but also in vivo. The mechanisms by which extracellular matrix affects differentiation, as well as the nature of extracellular matrix constituents which have major impacts on mammary gland function, have only now begun to be dissected. The intricate variety of extracellular matrix-mediated events and the remarkable degree of plasticity of extracellular matrix structure and composition at virtually all times during ontogeny, make such studies difficult. Similarly, during carcinogenesis, the extracellular matrix undergoes gross alterations, the consequences of which are not yet precisely understood. Nevertheless, an increasing amount of data suggests that the extracellular matrix and extracellular matrix-receptors might participate in the control of most, if not all, of the successive stages of breast tumors, from appearance to progression and metastasis.