We examined the association between mutation of the p53 gene and survival in a large cohort of breast cancer patients. Using a rapid, non-isotopic single-strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) method we screened for mutations in exons 4-10 of the p53 gene in 375 primary breast cancers from patients with a median follow-up of 57 months. Mutations were found in 19% of tumours. Statistically significant associations were found between p53 mutation and histological grade, hormone receptor status, ploidy and S-phase fraction. No association was found between p53 mutation and axillary lymph node involvement, histological type, tumour size, vascular invasion or patient age. In univariate survival analysis, p53 mutation was strongly associated with poor prognosis. This was maintained in the lymph node-negative and hormone receptor-positive patient subgroups. In multivariate analysis, p53 mutation was associated with poor survival independent of lymph node status, estrogen receptor status and S-phase fraction. Our results demonstrate the feasibility of using a rapid and simple polymerase chain reaction-SSCP screening procedure to detect p53 gene mutation in breast cancer for the provision of prognostic information.