The prognostic power of the extent of tumour invasion is indisputable; Dukes' classification has repeatedly been proven to be strongly correlated with patient survival. Modifications have led only to confusion, resulting in caution being required in the classification of patients with Dukes' A tumours. In the UK, the American tumour node metastasis and Australian clinicopathological systems are frequently considered too complex for routine clinical use. Meanwhile, Jass's classification may be complicated by observer variation between pathologists, and recent evidence suggests that it offers no advantage over that of Dukes. All the conventional staging systems also fail to take the skill of the surgeon into account when determining outcome. Attempts at quantifying tumour structure have not heralded the expected major advance. For instance, the expense and uncertain prognostic value of tumour DNA content assessed by flow cytometry are likely to restrict widespread use of this technique. It may soon be possible, however, to provide optimum treatment for patients based on individual tumour doubling times. Classification using knowledge of how a small number of cells in the tumour have the ability to invade locally, enter blood vessels and metastasize would also provide important prognostic information on which treatment could be based. Until then, the ease of use and high prognostic power of Dukes' classification ensure that, after 60 years, it is still the 'gold standard' against which all other prognostic classifications in colorectal cancer should be assessed.