Circulating insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) and IGF-binding protein-3 (IGFBP-3) may be risk factors for the development of colorectal cancer. On the other hand, IGF-II and IGFBP-2 are overexpressed in colorectal carcinomas. These contrasting backgrounds led us to investigate the relationship between serum IGF-I, IGF-II, IGFBP-2, and IGFBP-3 and the presence of colorectal adenomas, known precursors of colorectal carcinoma, in 345 volunteers attending a screening flexible sigmoidoscopy trial (entry criteria: healthy, aged 55-64 yr). The most striking finding was an elevated mean serum IGF-II in individuals with adenomas (n = 52) compared with controls (mean difference, 139 ng/mL; 95% confidence intervals, 82, 196; P < 0.0001). Logistic regression adjusting for confounding factors confirmed the significant association between IGF-II and adenoma occurrence (P < 0.0001) and revealed an additional positive association with serum IGFBP-2 (P < 0.0001). However, there was no association found between either serum IGF-I and/or IGFBP-3 and the presence of adenomas. Additionally, in 31 individuals with adenomas in whom levels were determined pre- and postpolypectomy, there was a significant fall in mean IGF-II (P < 0.001) and IGFBP-2 (P < 0.001) after adenoma removal, but no difference in IGF-II and IGFBP-2 concentrations between repeated samples in 20 individuals without adenomas. Immunohistochemical studies demonstrated IGF-II expression in 83% of all adenomas, which contrasted with absent expression in normal colonic expression and hyperplastic polyps. This study has shown for the first time that serum IGF-II may be a tumor marker in individuals with colorectal adenomas. Further studies are needed to validate these relationships in larger populations, including individuals undergoing colonoscopy.