The expression of transcripts of cytokines of the interleukin-6 (IL-6) family has been examined in human breast tumors, breast cancer cell lines, and adipose stromal cells, by means of reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction amplification. Of the six breast tumor samples examined, all expressed transcripts encoding IL-6 and Leukemia Inhibitory Factor (LIF). Four of the samples also expressed transcripts for oncostatin M (OSM) and IL-11, and three expressed the IL-6 receptor. Adipose stromal cells expressed IL-6, IL-11 and LIF, but not the IL-6 receptor, consistent with previous conclusions that IL-6 activity in these cells required addition of IL-6 soluble receptor. In the case of T47D cells, expression of IL-11 protein was confirmed by immunotitration. Moreover, in these cells, expression of IL-11 transcripts was induced 3-fold by addition of estradiol to the culture medium. These results add credence to our previous proposal that breast cancer development is regulated in part by local autocrine and paracrine mechanisms via epithelial/mesenchymal interactions, in which estrogen produced by stromal cells surrounding the tumor acts to stimulate the production of growth factors and cytokines by the tumor cells. Some of these may act to stimulate further the growth and development of the tumor, while these or other factors may act on the surrounding mesenchymal cells in a paracrine fashion to stimulate aromatase expression in the presence of glucocorticoids. Thus, a positive feedback loop is established which leads to the development and growth of the tumor.