There is increasing evidence that both local and systemic inflammatory responses play an important role in the progression of a variety of common solid tumours. The aim of the present study was to examine the relationship between tumour T-lymphocyte subset infiltration, the systemic inflammatory response and cancer-specific survival in patients with colorectal cancer. In all, 147 patients undergoing potentially curative resection for colorectal cancer were studied. Circulating concentrations of C-reactive protein were measured prior to surgery. CD4+ and CD8+ T-lymphocyte infiltration of the tumour was assessed using immunohistochemistry and a point counting technique. When patients were grouped according to the percentage tumour volume of CD4+ T-lymphocytes, there was no difference in terms of age, sex, tumour site, stage and tumour characteristics. However, there was an inverse relationship between percentage tumour CD4+ T-lymphocytes and C-reactive protein (P<0.01). On univariate analysis, both C-reactive protein concentrations (P<0.001) and percentage tumour volume of CD4+ (P<0.05) T-lymphocytes were associated with cancer-specific survival. The results of the present study show that low tumour CD4+ T-lymphocyte infiltration is associated with elevated C-reactive protein concentrations and both predict poor cancer-specific survival.