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The transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) pathway can play either a tumor-suppressing or a tumor-promoting role in human breast carcinogenesis. In order to determine whether expression of TGF-β signaling factors varies by age at onset and breast tumor characteristics that have prognostic significance, we undertook a study of 623 women with invasive breast carcinoma enrolled in a population-based case-control study conducted in Poland from 2000 to 2003. TGF-β signaling factors were analyzed by immunohistochemistry in tumor tissue microarrays. We found that most tumors expressed extracellular-TGF-β1 (78%), TGF-β2 (91%), TGF-β3 (93%), TGF-βR2 (72%), and phospho-SMAD2 (61%), whereas intracellular-TGF-β1 was expressed in 32% of tumors. Expression of TGF-β ligands (β1, β2, and β3) was associated with prognostically favorable pathological features including small size, and low grade, and these associations were similar for ER-positive and negative tumors. On the contrary, expression of the receptor TGF-βR2 was primarily associated with small tumor size among ER-negative tumors, while expression of the transcription factor phospho-SMAD2 was associated with positive nodal status among ER-negative tumors. The greater frequency of expression of phospho-SMAD2 in cancers associated with lymph node metastases is consistent with a pro-progression role for TGF-β. In addition, expression of extracellular-TGF-β1 (P = 0.005), TGF-βR2 (P = 8.2E-11), and phospho-SMAD2 (P = 1.3E-8) was strongly associated with earlier age at onset, independent of ER status. Our data provide evidence that TGF-β signaling patterns vary by age and pathologic features of prognostic significance including ER expression. These results warrant analysis in studies of clinical outcomes accounting for age, ER status and treatment.