bcl-2, the well known anti-apoptotic gene, cloned more than a decade ago, promotes cell viability without promoting cell proliferation. With few exceptions, high bcl-2 protein expression is associated with a favourable outcome in epithelial tumours. bcl-2 immunoreactivity in basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) is contradictory, with 67-100% immunopositivity being reported. Although BCCs are traditionally regarded as low-grade, indolent tumours, aggressive BCCs (A-BCCs) are mutilative, locally destructive tumours that often recur. bcl-2 protein expression as a predictor of BCC aggressiveness is poorly documented in the English-language literature. The bcl-2 protein immunoprofile of 50 clinically non-aggressive (NA-BCCs) and 25 clinically A-BCCs was investigated. Of the latter, 17 manifested with one, two or three recurrences. bcl-2 protein expression in each of the recurrences was also evaluated. bcl-2 expression was scored as follows: 0-5% positive cells=negative, 6-25%=1+, 26-50%=2+, 51-75%=3+, >75%=4+. "High" labeling encompassed 3+ or 4+ labeling while "low" labeling referred to 1 + or 2 + labeling. Although bcl-2 positivity was noted in all BCCs, low bcl-2 labeling was a statistically significant feature of A-BCCs (p < 0.01). High bcl-2 labeling of NA-BCCs was a reflection of the bcl-2 labeling of the dominant constituent nodular or superficial subtypes. Micronodular BCCs revealed 2+ or 3+ labeling. Initial and recurrent A-BCCs with a pure or predominantly infiltrative component, demonstrated 1+ or 2+ bcl-2 labeling. The differential bcl-2 expression in the various clinicopathological subtypes of BCCs suggests that, despite the common derivation of these tumours from a primitive basaloid stem cell and a limited potential for metastasis, they form a heterogeneous group of tumours that differ markedly in histologic and biological behaviour. While the superficial and nodular BCCs are indolent slow-growing tumours with high bcl-2 labeling, the aggressive BCCs are infiltrative, desmoplastic tumours with low bcl-2 labeling. In mixed tumours, heterogeneity of labeling is a distinctive feature and is contributed to in part by the labeling trends of the different histological subtypes. The micronodular BCC shows varied bcl-2 labeling but in combined tumours occupies a niche intermediate between the non-aggressive nodular and superficial and the aggressive infiltrative subtypes. The initial and subsequent biopsies of recurrent, adequately excised BCCs share a pure or mixed, predominantly infiltrative, stroma-rich histomorphology with low bcl-2 labeling, reflecting the immunoprofile of a more aggressive growth pattern.