The imbalance between proliferative and differentiative estrogenic effect, caused by quantitative and qualitative alteration of the estrogen receptor (ER) expression, may play a determinant role in mammary neoplastic transformation. Our studies demonstrate that ER levels are significantly higher in human mammary neoplastic tissues when compared to perineoplastic tissues and that increased ER expression is associated with ER gene hypomethylation. During progressive multifactorial carcinogenesis, ER overexpression may represent an early step in neoplastic transformation. In fact, high levels of ER represent good markers of differentiation and can predict the likelihood of benefiting from anti-estrogen therapy. Nevertheless, about 35% of ER-positive breast cancers are resistant to endocrine therapy and 10% of ER-negative tumors behave as hormone-sensitive tumors. Recent studies on ER mRNA variants, which naturally occur in human breast tumors, demonstrated mutations, deletions and alternative splicings, yielding deletions of exons 3, 4, 5 and 7. ER variants exhibited altered functions or changed the responsiveness to hormonal therapy. Analysis of these variants could be a useful parameter to better predict tumor responsiveness to anti-estrogen therapy. Recently, a regain of hormonal responsiveness by ER-negative breast cancer cells has been reported following ER gene transfection. However, estradiol treatment inhibits rather than stimulates cell growth as well as the metastatic and invasive potential of the ER gene transduced cells. Transfer of the ER gene may be considered as a new therapeutic approach in the management of hormone-independent breast cancer.