To examine matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases (TIMP) mRNA levels in archival breast cancer biopsies, we employed microdissection to separate tumour tissue from the surrounding breast tissue, or stroma and RT-PCR to determine gross qualitative and small quantitative differences in the patterns of expression. In this study, a significant correlation (p < 0.05, by Mann-Whitney U analysis) between TIMP-2 expression and lymph node involvement was identified, while MMP-11 and TIMP-1 expression patterning also significantly (p < 0.05) differed between those tumours showing calcification and those that did not. When compared by Spearmans’ ρ correlation analysis, a significant association (p < 0.05, ρ = 0.404) was identified in the pattern of MMP-2 and MMP-9 gene expression. In this study, the use of microdissection and a systematic strategy of RT-PCR analysis have allowed us to investigate localized MMP and MMP inhibitor expression within breast tumours. We have identified patterns of gene expression that may further reveal aspects of breast carcinogenesis, and a robust method for examining changes in clinically important genes using archival biopsies and across stroma-tumour boundaries.