p21/WAF1 expression was studied in a series of 162 colorectal carcinoma patients and its relation to p53- and activator protein (AP)-2 expressions and to stage as well as survival was assessed. p21 expression was moderate or intense in 33% of the tumours, and 53% of the tumours had moderate or strong p53 staining intensity. Eighty-nine percent of the tumours showed a weak cytoplasmic AP-2 signal. As expected, p21 and p53 stainings were inversely related to each other (P < 0.001). There was a significant positive association between p21 and AP-2 expression levels (P= 0.01). p21 intensity and percentage were higher in Dukes' A and B stages (P< 0.001). The cancer-related survival and recurrence-free survival (RFS) rates were significantly lower among patients with a low signal for p21 (P< 0.001) and low p21 percentage in tumour epithelium (P < 0.001). High p53 staining intensity in tumour epithelium predicted poor survival (P = 0.01) and RFS (P = 0.003). In the multivariate analysis, p21 percentage distribution independently predicted cancer-related survival in all cases, and p21 expression intensity in T1-4/N0-3/M0 and T1-3/N0/M0 cases. p21 percentage distribution was an independent predictor of RFS in all and T1-3/N0/M0 cases. AP-2 staining did not reach any prognostic significance. These results suggest that the immunohistochemical detection of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p21 could be used to predict more precisely the outcome of colorectal cancer patients.