Long interspersed nuclear element 1 (L1) belongs to a family of retrotransposons. Expression of the normally repressed L1 retrotransposons has been shown to induce genome instability by creating DNA double-stranded breaks and chromosomal rearrangements through the process of retrotransposition. At present, little is known about the expression of L1-encoded ORF1p and ORF2p which are indispensable for its retrotransposition activity. Given its potentially harmful effects on the genome, we investigated the implications of both ORF1p and ORF2p expression and their subcellular localization in a range of breast cancer cell lines and breast tumor tissues including 15 normal breast tissues, 25 fibroadenomas, 25 ductal carcinomas in situ (DCIS), and 95 invasive cancers. Clinicopathologic parameters and survival outcomes were investigated in association with the cytoplasmic and nuclear expression of ORF1p and ORF2p using univariate and multivariate analysis. High cytoplasmic expression of ORF1p and ORF2p was seen in DCIS tumors, but they were not related with survival outcome. The majority of invasive cancers were found to express both ORF1p and ORF2p in the cytoplasm, while nuclear expression was also seen in a subclass of those invasive cancers in the range of 28-31 %. Tumors with high nuclear expression of ORF1p and ORF2p were more significantly associated with lymph node metastasis (p = 0.001) and the worst patient survival (p < 0.0001) than those with cytoplasmic expression. This is the first study examining the effects of both ORF1p and ORF2p expression in breast cancer tissues. Our observation shows altered expression patterns of ORF1p and ORF2p within invasive cancers, which are related to differences in overall patient survival. The differing patterns of both cytoplasmic and nuclear ORF1p and ORF2p expression indicate that further studies of the biology and function of L1 retrotransposons are required in breast cancer.