The aim of this study was to clarify the role of APC and K-ras mutations in non-polypoid colorectal tumorigenesis. DNA from 63 adenomas (31 polypoid, 17 superficial elevated, 15 superficial depressed), 66 submucosally invasive carcinomas (47 polypoid, 19 non-polypoid) and 34 advanced carcinomas were examined for K-ras codon 12 point mutations and APC mutations in the mutation cluster region. K-ras mutation: the frequency in superficial depressed adenomas was lower than that in polypoid adenomas (0% vs 31%: P= 0.018). The frequency in non-polypoid carcinomas was lower than that in polypoid carcinomas (11% vs 56%: P = 0.0008), and was relatively low compared with that in polypoid adenomas (11% vs 31%). APC mutation: the frequency in superficial depressed adenomas was lower than that in polypoid adenomas (7% vs 43%: P = 0.016), and that in polypoid carcinomas was similar to that in non-polypoid carcinomas. Polypoid adenomas, polypoid carcinomas and advanced carcinomas had almost the same frequency. There may be some pathway other than the conventional adenoma-carcinoma sequence in development of non-polypoid carcinomas. The precursors of most non-polypoid carcinomas are considered to be de novo or superficial depressed adenomas. In this non-polypoid pathway, APC mutation seems to be requisite but K-ras mutation not. It is possible that new APC mutations are acquired after the development of superficial depressed adenomas.