An intrinsic component of colorectal carcinogenesis may be the capacity to activate regenerative responses simultaneously with inhibition of apoptosis. Since apoptosis is known to be inhibited in colorectal cancer, this study sought evidence for the activation of the REG family of genes which are considered to be activated during regeneration of intestinal mucosa. Transcripts for the REG gene were found in 53% of colorectal cancers and for the PAP gene in 60% of colorectal cancers, by RT-PCR. Using in situ hybridization, the REG transcripts were found to be present in the tumour cells themselves rather than inflammatory or stromal cells. There were no significant correlations between the expression of these two genes and tumour stage, age or sex of the patient population or tumour site. However, in patients with non-metastatic disease who underwent ostensibly curative surgery, the expression of REG alone and co-expression of REG with PAP had a highly significantly adverse effect on survival. These data provide support for the concept that, in some tumours, carcinogenesis involves a regenerative process which co-exists with apoptotic inhibition and may provide a valuable selective indicator of the need for adjuvant therapy in those patients with early-stage colorectal cancer whose disease is destined to recur after curative surgery.