Results from model tumour systems suggest that either increased levels of certain metalloproteases (MMPs) or decreased levels of their inhibitors correlate with metastatic potential. In this study, levels of two MMPs, i.e. MMP-8 and -9, and their inhibitor tissue inhibitor of metalloprotease type 1 (TIMP-1) were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay in human breast tumours. Levels of MMP-8 and -9 correlated significantly with each other, but neither MMP correlated with urokinase plasminogen activator. Levels of both MMP-8 and -9 were also significantly related to levels of TIMP-1. In contrast, neither MMP correlated with plasminogen activator inhibitor. No relationship was found between MMP-8, MMP-9 or TIMP-1 and either tumour size or metastasis to axillary nodes. MMP-8 and -9 levels were inversely related to levels of oestrogen receptors. MMP-8 but not MMP-9 levels were also inversely correlated with progesterone receptor levels. It is concluded that the assay for MMP-8 and -9 described here will permit the evaluation of these proteases as prognostic markers in cancer.