In situ estrogen synthesis makes an important contribution to the high estrogen concentration found in breast cancer tissues. Steroid sulfatase which hydrolyzes several sulfated steroids such as estrone sulfate, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, and cholesterol sulfate may be involved. In the present study, we therefore, assessed steroid sulfatase mRNA levels in breast malignancies and background tissues from 38 patients by reverse transcription and polymerase chain reaction. The levels in breast cancer tissues were significantly increased at 1458.4+/-2119.7 attomoles/mg RNA (mean +/- SD) as compared with 535.6+/-663.4 attomoles/mg RNA for non-malignant tissues (P<0.001). Thus, increased steroid sulfatase expression may be partly responsible for local overproduction of estrogen and provide a growth advantage for tumor cells.