Although most colorectal cancer develops based on the adenoma-adenocarcinoma sequence, morphologically, colorectal cancer is not a homogeneous disease entity. Generally, there are two distinct morphological types: polypoid and ulcerative colorectal tumours. Previous studies have demonstrated that K-ras codon 12 mutations are preferentially associated with polypoid growth of colorectal cancer; however, little is known about the molecular mechanism that determines ulcerative growth of colorectal cancer. beta-catenin complex plays a critical role both in tumorigenesis and morphogenesis. We examined the differential expression of beta-catenin and its related factors among different types of colorectal cancer in order to determine any relationship with gross tumour morphology. Immunohistochemical staining of beta-catenin, E-cadherin and MMP-7 was performed on 51 tumours, including 26 polypoid tumours and 25 ulcerative tumours. Protein truncation tests and single-strand conformational polymorphism for mutation of the adenomatous polyposis coli tumour suppressor gene, as well as single-strand conformational polymorphism for the mutation of beta-catenin exon 3 were also done. Nuclear expression of beta-catenin was observed in 18 out of 25 (72%) cases of ulcerative colorectal cancer and seven out of 26 (26.9%) cases of polypoid colorectal cancer. A significant relationship of nuclear beta-catenin expression with ulcerative colorectal cancer was found (P<0.001). However, this finding was independent of adenomatous polyposis coli tumour suppressor gene mutation and E-cadherin expression. Together with previous data, we propose that different combinations of genetic alterations may underlie different morphological types of colorectal cancer. These findings should be taken into consideration whenever developing a new genetic diagnosis or therapy for colorectal cancer.