Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is an important factor mediating tumour angiogenesis. VEGF mRNA is differentially expressed in bladder cancer with high expression in superficial tumours (stage pTa and pT1) contrasting with low expression in muscle invasive tumours (stage > or = pT2). To investigate mechanisms regulating VEGF expression in bladder cancer, VEGF mRNA and protein were measured in normal bladder (n = 12) and primary bladder cancers (n = 57). VEGF protein levels correlated with mRNA expression in normal bladder (r = 0.68, P = 0.02) and bladder cancer (r = 0.46, P = 0.0007). Whilst VEGF mRNA expression was threefold higher in superficial compared to muscle invasive bladder cancers (P = 0.0001) there was no difference in VEGF protein (P = 0.81). Accordingly, the median protein:mRNA ratios increased more than 15-fold with increasing tumour stage (P < 0.0001) suggesting translational regulation. Expression of the eukaryotic initiation factor-4E (elF-4E), a factor implicated in the translational regulation of VEGF, was greater in tumours than normal bladder (P < 0.0001) and correlated with VEGE protein:mRNA ratios (n = 43, r = 0.54, P = 0.0004) pointing to its role in the regulation of VEGF. In superficial tumours (n = 37) high expression of eIF-4E was associated with a poor prognosis and reduced stage progression-free survival (P = 0.04, Cox proportional hazards model). The study demonstrates that eIF-4E may be involved in translational regulation of VEGF in bladder cancer and might have a role as a prognostic factor in bladder cancer.