Increased synthesis and degradation of extracellular matrix components are associated with breast cancer development. This study evaluated type I and type III procollagen mRNA expression and the corresponding protein synthesis and maturation, as well as the tissue distribution of these collagens, in benign breast lesions, infiltrating ductal carcinomas, and their metastases by in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry. In the benign lesions, the type I and type III collagen bundles were regularly organized and the expression of the corresponding mRNA was weak, indicating a relatively slow collagen turnover. In the malignant tumours, increased expression of type I and type III procollagen mRNAs was observed in the fibroblastic cells of the stroma; the malignant epithelial cells did not participate. The staining of corresponding newly-synthesized pN-collagens showed aberrant bundles in the invasive front of the malignant tumours. Newly-synthesized type I and type III procollagens were occasionally observed in fibroblastic cells, particularly in grade 2 and grade 3 tumours. Metastases of breast carcinoma resembled poorly differentiated primary tumours with respect to their collagen synthesis and deposition. The increased synthesis of fibrillar type I and type III procollagens may serve as a pathway for tumour invasion. The enhanced synthesis is associated with the formation of aberrant collagen bundles, which may be more readily degradable and may thus facilitate breast tumour invasion. Copyright © 1998 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.