Breast cancers in younger, premenopausal women are more likely to exhibit an adverse prognostic profile (including negative steroid hormone receptors and a high rate of cellular proliferation) and poor outcome than breast cancers in postmenopausal women. It has been hypothesized that this adverse prognostic profile is a result of the higher histologic grade of breast cancers in pre- compared with post-menopausal women. To assess the association of expression of steroid hormone receptors and indicators of proliferation while controlling for histologic grade, we identified 100 infiltrating ductal carcinomas from premenopausal women 45 years of age or younger and 100 from postmenopausal women 65 years of age or older. The carcinomas were selected so that the histologic grades (low versus high) were distributed equally between the 2 groups. Estrogen receptors (ER), progesterone receptors (PR), p27Kip1 and Ki-67 (to measure rate of proliferation) were assessed by immunohistochemistry and compared between groups. Clinical information and survival data were also analyzed. ER content was lower and proliferation was higher in carcinomas in premenopausal women (p = 0.048 and p = 0.005, respectively). By univariate analysis, p27Kip1 and PR were not different between the groups; however, in multivariate analysis, p27Kip1 was higher in postmenopausal women, but only in a subgroup with highly proliferative carcinomas. Overall survival was similar in the pre- and postmenopausal women. Furthermore, low p27Kip1 and African-American ethnicity predicted a poorer overall survival in the premenopausal, but not in the postmenopausal, women in our study. After controlling for histologic grade, a lower expression of ER and a higher proliferative index were detected in breast carcinomas in premenopausal women. Therefore, some prognostic indicators, such as ER and proliferative rate, may be more closely associated with menopausal status than histologic grade. Our data also suggest that some prognostic factors are not equally effective as predictors of survival in pre- and postmenopausal women. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.