Tumor cells degrade extracellular matrix components (ECM) to invade surrounding tissues. Malignant tumor cells are known to produce various ECM-degrading enzymes including matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), serine proteinases and cathepsins. Among them, MMPs may play a key role in cancer invasion and metastasis. To study the role of MMPs in the progression of human breast carcinomas, we examined production and tissue localization of MMP-1, MMP-2, MMP-3, MMP-9 and their common inhibitors, tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinases (TIMP-1 and TIMP-2). The data suggest that the imbalance between MMPs and TIMPs produced by tumor tissues may be a determinant of the progression in breast carcinoma.