The Cdk inhibitor p21 regulates p53-mediated growth arrest following DNA damage. It is expressed during epithelial differentiation in a variety of organs including colon. We investigated susceptibility of p21-deficient mice to the colon carcinogen azoxymethane (AOM). After AOM injections, rodents develop putative premalignant lesions called aberrant crypt foci (ACF) that are localized to the distal three centimeters of the colon. p21-deficient mice developed significantly higher numbers of ACF than wild-type mice in response to AOM, and these were not restricted to distal colon. After AOM treatment, increased numbers of lymphoid aggregates were detected in p21-deficient colon. Proliferation was similar in wild type and p21-deficient colon before and after AOM injection, but AOM-induced apoptosis was detected only in wild-type crypt epithelial cells, and not in the p21-deficient colon. The proapoptotic function uncovered for p21 was unexpected, because p21 acts as an inhibitor of apoptosis in many systems, and is not required for p53-dependent apoptosis. Enhanced formation of ACF in p21-deficient mice supports a tumor suppressor function for p21 in the colon. Reduced apoptosis of colon epithelial cells with deleterious mutations may be an initiating event in the formation of ACF, with inflammatory cell cytokine expression contributing to their further expansion.