Human breast carcinoma is biologically heterogeneous, and its clinical course may vary from an indolent slowly progressive one to a course associated with rapid progression and metastatic spread. It is important to establish prognostic factors which will define subgroups of patients with low vs high risk of recurrence so as to better define the need for additional therapy. Additional characterization of the molecular make-up of breast cancer phenotypes should provide important insights into the biology of breast cancer. In the present study, we investigated apoptosis, expression of p27Kip1 and p53 retrospectively in 181 human breast cancer specimens. In addition, their relevance to the biological behaviour of breast cancer was examined. Our studies found a significant association among high histological grade, high p53, low apoptosis and low p27. Our results also demonstrated that, in human breast cancer, low levels of p27 and apoptotic index (AI) strongly correlated with the presence of lymph node metastasis and decreased patient survival. In node-negative patients, however, p27 also had prognostic value for relapse-free and overall survival in multivariate analysis. Furthermore p27 and AI had predictive value for the benefits of chemotherapy. These latter observations should prompt prospective randomized studies designed to investigate the predictive role of p27 and AI in determining who should receive chemotherapy in node-negative patients.