The aim of this study was to evaluate the possible role of apoptosis-related proteins (ARP: Fas and Fas ligand, bcl-2, p53) in the progress of tumorigenesis in breast cancer. Epithelial tumor cells and lymphocytes were analyzed immunohistochemically for the rate of lymphoid infiltration and presence of ARP in 50 human breast tumors of different types. The tumors included: i) fibrocystic disease (n=12); ii) benign fibroadenoma (n=11); iii) carcinoma in situ (n=8); iv) invasive ductal carcinoma with high lymphoid infiltration (n=12); and v) invasive ductal carcinoma with lymphoid depletion (n=7). Both fibrocystic disease and fibroadenomas had low amounts of lymphocytes and very little lymphoid infiltration. In cancer in situ, expansion of lymphoid infiltrates and increased density of lymphocytes resulted in a rise in the total number of lymphocytes, reflecting intensification of the immune response. In carcinomas with high lymphoid infiltration, a significant increase in the number of Fas and FasL and p53-positive cells was found. The number of bcl-2-positive tumor cells in these tumors was not changed, whereas the number of bcl-2-positive lymphocytes decreased. In carcinomas with lymphoid depletion, the opposite picture was found as a result of deep subcompensation of the lymph system. ARP are present in a significantly higher number of lymphocytes than of the epithelial tumor cells. This indicates that the cells initiating apoptosis in tumors are themselves damaged by the process. The intense apoptosis in lymphocytes in malignant tumors may be one of the reasons for the progress of breast tumors.