The matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are a family of closely related proteolytic enzymes which are involved in the degradation of different components of the extracellular matrix. There is increasing evidence to indicate that individual MMPs have an important role in tumour invasion and tumour spread. Monoclonal antibodies specific for MMP-1, MMP-2, or MMP-9 have been produced, using as immunogens peptides selected from the amino acid sequences of individual MMPs. The presence of MMP-1, MMP-2, and MMP-9 in oesophageal cancer was investigated by immunohistochemistry on formalin-fixed, wax-embedded sections of oesophageal cancers. The relationship of individual MMPs to prognosis and survival was determined. MMP-1 was present in 24 per cent of oesophageal cancers, while MMP-2 and MMP-9 were present in 78 and 70 per cent of tumours, respectively. The presence of MMP-1 was associated with a particularly poor prognosis (log rank test 8.46, P < 0.004) and was an independent prognostic factor (P = 0.02). The identification of individual MMPs in oesophageal cancer provides a rational basis for use in the treatment of oesophageal cancer of MMP inhibitors which are currently undergoing clinical trial.