Expression of tissue factor (TF) in the endothelium has been observed only rarely in human disease and has been thought to be elaborated on the surface of vascular endothelial cells (VECs) in vitro as an artifact of tissue culture. Using monoclonal antibodies and a novel probe for functional TF, we have localized TF to the VECs (and tumor cells) within the tumors of seven patients with invasive breast cancer but not in the VECs (or tumor cells) of benign tumors from ten patients with fibrocystic disease of the breast. The potent procoagulant TF was shown to be a marker of the initiation of angiogenesis in human breast cancer. Further evidence that the TF was the demonstration of a similar distribution of cross-linked fibrin only in the VECs of the malignant tumors. We interpret these data as further support for the concept that tumor cells can activate nearby VECs and regulate blood vessel growth in vivo. Large clinical pathologic studies will be necessary to determine whether TF is a useful marker for the "switch" to the angiogenic phenotype" in human breast disease and/or correlates with the thromboembolic complications of breast cancer.