Urokinase plasminogen activator (uPA) is a serine protease involved in cancer invasion and metastasis. uPA mediates its action while attached to a membrane-bound receptor (uPAR). In this investigation we show that uPAR levels correlate with uPA levels in human breast cancers. uPAR levels, however, do not correlate with other components of the plasminogen activator system such as tissue-type plasminogen activator (t-PA), PAI-I or PAI-2. In addition, uPAR levels showed no correlation with tumor size, axillary-node status or estrogen-receptor status. On the basis of an optimum cut-off point, patients with breast cancers containing high levels of uPAR had a worse prognosis than patients with low levels of the receptor. However, as a prognostic marker in breast cancer, uPAR was not as strong as uPA. Our results are consistent with data from model systems suggesting that both uPA and uPAR are necessary for metastasis.