Human ribonuclease 1 (hRNase 1) is critical to extracellular RNA clearance and innate immunity to achieve homeostasis and host defense; however, whether it plays a role in cancer remains elusive. Here, we demonstrate that hRNase 1, independently of its ribonucleolytic activity, enriches the stem-like cell population and enhances the tumor-initiating ability of breast cancer cells. Specifically, secretory hRNase 1 binds to and activates the tyrosine kinase receptor ephrin A4 (EphA4) signaling to promote breast tumor initiation in an autocrine/paracrine manner, which is distinct from the classical EphA4-ephrin juxtacrine signaling through contact-dependent cell-cell communication. In addition, analysis of human breast tumor tissue microarrays reveals a positive correlation between hRNase 1, EphA4 activation, and stem cell marker CD133. Notably, high hRNase 1 level in plasma samples is positively associated with EphA4 activation in tumor tissues from breast cancer patients, highlighting the pathological relevance of the hRNase 1-EphA4 axis in breast cancer. The discovery of hRNase 1 as a secretory ligand of EphA4 that enhances breast cancer stemness suggests a potential treatment strategy by inactivating the hRNase 1-EphA4 axis.