The aim of this study is to evaluate the prognostic role of thymidine labeling index in patients with breast cancer. Cellular proliferation rates in 155 breast cancer specimens were investigated by H-3-thyrnidine labeling index (H-3-TLI). Median age was 47 years (range: 23-76). At presentation, 11 patients (7.1%) had stage I disease, 76 (49%) had stage II, 64 (41.3%) had stage III disease, and 4 (2.6%) had metastatic involvement. Patients were placed in 2 groups based on their proliferative indices. The cut-off level was assigned as the median TLI value of the whole group. Correlations between proliferative activity of the tumors based on 3H-TLI levels and various previously established prognostic factors, as well as the influence of proliferative activity on survival as a clinical outcome, were analyzed. The mean and median TLI values for the whole group of patients were 4.36 +/- 4.96% and 2.76% (range: 0-23.6), respectively. There was a significant association of nuclear grade with TLI (P = 0.04). Patients who were alive with no sign of disease at the final follow-up examination had a significantly lower median TLI rate than those who were either alive with disease or those who had eventually died with disease progression (3.7% versus 1.9%, respectively; P = 0.04). Patients with locally advanced disease (N2 + N3 involvement) had a significantly higher median TLI rate than those with local nodal involvement (N1) (3.4% versus 1.7%, respectively, P = 0.026). Furthermore, TU levels showed a significant association with overall survival in patients with node-negative disease (P = 0.02). Based on the results of this study, it can be concluded that TLI plays a significant prognostic role in a subset of patients with node-negative breast cancer. Furthermore, TLI appears to have a predictive value for the clinical outcome of patients with breast cancer. These findings may justify a more aggressive therapeutic approach in patients with high TLI levels. Further large-scale, prospective studies are required before a definite conclusion can be reached.