Mucinous carcinomas of the breast, so-called colloid carcinomas, exhibit better prognoses than their nonmucinous breast counterparts. This biological difference exhibited by mucinous breast carcinomas prompted us to examine the relationship of mucin expression to colloid carcinoma histogenesis. We studied 50 colloid carcinomas, 50 noncolloid cancers, and 50 normal breasts by hematoxylin-eosin (H&E) and Alcian blue staining, mucin immunohistochemistry, in situ hybridization with a battery of MUC riboprobes, and ancillary digital image analysis. We observed luminal mucin in normal ducts in 80% of colloid carcinomas compared with 10% of noncolloid carcinomas and 6% of normal breasts (P < .01). In the cases of colloid carcinoma that showed mucin-filled ducts, luminal mucin was observed in 40% of the normal ducts and acini, 40% to 75% of the ducts involved by hyperplasia, atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH) and ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), respectively, and in 50% of the co-incidental areas of cysts (mucoceles), adenosis, fibroadenoma, and intraductal papilloma (P < .01). Immunohistochemistry showed that colloid carcinomas showed strong MUC2 cytoplasmic immunoreactivity and decreased MUC1 immunoreactivity compared with noncolloid carcinomas. In situ hybridization studies indicated fivefold increased MUC2 signals and twofold increased MUC5 signals within adjacent and remote normal epithelium in only the colloid carcinoma cases (P < .01; P < .05). In these cases of colloid carcinoma, these increased MUC2 and MUC5 signals were also observed in areas of hyperplasia, ADH, DCIS, and invasive carcinoma. In contrast, the noncolloid carcinomas showed fivefold increased MUC1 signals but no increases in MUC2 or MUC5. In mixed colloid/noncolloid carcinomas, the colloid areas had identical mucin expression patterns as the pure colloid carcinomas, but there was a loss of MUC2 and MUC5 expression and a gain of MUC1 expression in the noncolloid areas that was therefore identical to the pattern observed in pure noncolloid carcinoma. In this study, we conclude that the altered expression of mucin so characteristic of colloid carcinoma is also a field change present in adjacent and remote normal breast epithelium.