Human cell lines constitute powerful model systems for the in vitro and in vivo analysis of cancer. Cancer lines that are invasive in culture often form tumors and metastases in immune deficient mice. It is generally assumed that, in such cases, the principal population of cancer cells in culture corresponds to the tumor-forming cells in vivo. Here, we high-light a recent functional proteomics investigation that suggests the contrary. In this study, cells derived from orthotopic xenograft tumors formed by the invasive breast cancer line MDA-MB-231 were found to exhibit profound differences in their enzyme activity profiles and increased tumor growth rates and metastasis when compared to the parental line. These findings suggest that the in vivo microenvironment of the mouse mammary fat pad cultivates the growth of human breast cancer cells with elevated tumorigenic properties. Characterization of the unique molecular properties of these tumor-forming cells may reveal new strategies for the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.