Mechanical properties of individual living cells are known to be closely related to the health and function of the human body. Here, atomic force microscopy (AFM) indentation using a micro-sized spherical probe was carried out to characterize the elasticity of benign (MCF-10A) and cancerous (MCF-7) human breast epithelial cells. AFM imaging and confocal fluorescence imaging were also used to investigate their corresponding sub-membrane cytoskeletal structures. Malignant (MCF-7) breast cells were found to have an apparent Young's modulus significantly lower (1.4-1.8 times) than that of their non-malignant (MCF-10A) counterparts at physiological temperature (37 degrees C), and their apparent Young's modulus increase with loading rate. Both confocal and AFM images showed a significant difference in the organization of their sub-membrane actin structures which directly contribute to their difference in cell elasticity. This change may have facilitated easy migration and invasion of malignant cells during metastasis.