Placenta growth factor (PlGF) belongs to the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) family, a group of angiogenic factors that are crucial for tumour angiogenesis. Very little is known about the significance of PlGF in human cancer. We hypothesise that PlGF may have a potent influence in breast cancer. This study examined PlGF levels in human breast cancer in relation to patient's clinical parameters. PlGF expression and distribution was examined quantitatively using real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (Q-PCR) on a cohort of human breast cancer tissue (n = 119) and background breast tissue (n = 33), qualitatively using reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) on a range of cell lines, and immunohistochemically on patient samples. All these techniques revealed that PlGF expression was dramatically increased (P = 0.028) in breast cancer tissues compared with normal breast tissue. We demonstrate that PlGF displays prognostic value through analysis of patient survival status (6-year follow-up), as elevated levels of PlGF were significantly associated (P = 0.017) with recurrence, metastasis and patient mortality. Our study has shown that PlGF is over-expressed in breast cancer tissues and correlates with patient prognosis, and is likely to play a major role in the pathogenesis of tumours. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.