Mutations of the tumor suppressor gene p53 have been considered to be important determinants in several kinds of human cancer. Accumulation of p53 protein has been reported to correlate with more aggressive clinical behavior in some neoplasms. The role of p53 expression in adrenal cortical tumors (ACT) has not been elucidated but some studies have suggested its correlation with malignant behavior. Our objective was to determine if there is a correlation between the expression of immunoreactive p53 and the biological behavior of ACT. Fifty-seven ACT (21 from children and 36 from adults) were evaluated for p53 expression by immunohistochemistry in formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue and analyzed in terms of outcome. The p53 parameter was utilized semiquantitatively. Tumors were classified as p53 negative when no positivity was observed, or when only few cells showed weak positivity (0/1+) and scored as p53 positive when there was a diffuse and strong nuclear positivity (2+/3+). In children, p53 positivity was associated with clinically malignant ACT and p53 negativity was associated with clinically benign ACT (P = 0.026). In adults' ACT, p53 positivity had an effect on disease-free survival (P<0.001) and also correlated with Weiss score, with a cutoff = 4 (P = 0.04). p53 expression was related to the clinical behavior of ACT in both children and adults and these findings seem to support a role for p53 in ACT progression.