We investigated whether the expression of membrane-type-1 matrix metalloproteinase (MT1-MMP), matrix metalloproteinase-2 (MMP-2) and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-2 (TIMP-2) was consistent with the proposed roles of these proteins in promoting metastasis in colorectal cancer. The expression of MT1-MMP was significantly more frequent in deeply invasive carcinomas (P = 0.007) and in cases of vascular invasion (P = 0.02). The frequency of detection of MMP-2 in the stroma was much greater in vascular invasion-positive cases (42%) than in negative cases (20%; P = 0.02). The rate of detection of TIMP-2 in tumour cell cytoplasm increased with the depth of invasion (P = 0.03). TIMP-2 in the stroma was found more frequently in tumours with lymphatic invasion and lymph node metastasis (P < 0.05). Significant correlations were found between detection of MT1-MMP and MMP-2 in tumour cell cytoplasm (P < 0.05), of MT1-MMP and TIMP-2 in tumour cell cytoplasm (P < 0.01), and of MMP-2 and TIMP-2 in tumour cell cytoplasm (P < 0.01). Immunohistochemical detection of MT1-MMP and TIMP-2 might be useful for monitoring infiltration in colorectal carcinoma but is not correlated with distant metastases.