© 2018, The Author(s). Breast cancer (BC) adjuvant therapy after mastectomy in the setting of 1–3 positive lymph nodes has been controversial. This retrospective Translational Breast Cancer Research Consortium study evaluated molecular aberrations in primary cancers associated with locoregional recurrence (LRR) or distant metastasis (DM) compared to non-recurrent controls. We identified 115 HER2 negative, therapy naïve, T 1–3 and N 0-1 BC patients treated with mastectomy but no post-mastectomy radiotherapy. This included 32 LRR, 34 DM, and 49 controls. RNAseq was performed on primary tumors in 110 patients; with no difference in RNA profiles between patients with LRR, DM, or controls. DNA analysis on 57 primary tumors (17 LRR, 15 DM, and 25 controls) identified significantly more NF1 mutations and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway gene mutations in patients with LRR (24%, 47%) and DM (27%, 40%) compared to controls (0%, 0%; p < 0.0001 and p = 0.0070, respectively). Three patients had matched primary vs. LRR samples, one patient had a gain of a NF1 mutation in the LRR. There was no significant difference between the groups for PTEN loss or cleaved caspase 3 expression. The mean percentage Ki 67 labeling index was higher in patients with LRR (29.2%) and DM (26%) vs. controls (14%, p = 0.0045). In summary, mutations in the MAPK pathway, specifically NF1, were associated with both LRR and DM, suggesting that alterations in MAPK signaling are associated with a more aggressive tumor phenotype. Validation of these associations in tissues from randomized trials may support targeted therapy to reduce breast cancer recurrence.