An immunohistochemical differential staining of cancerous cells with anti-cytidine antibody after denaturation of nuclear DNA by acid hydrolysis with 2N HCl at 30 degrees C for 20 min (DNA-instability test) has been used as a marker for malignancy. The test was applied to bioptic tissues of human colorectal polyps assessed histopathologically as hyperplastic polyp (11 cases), tubular adenoma of mild (68 cases), moderate (102 cases), and severe (46 cases) dysplasia, and adenocarcinoma (30 cases). The serial sections of the same tissues were also subjected to immunohistochemical staining for Ki67, p53, DNA-fragmentation factor 45 (DFF45) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). The DNA-instability test was positive in 30 (100%) adenocarcinoma cases, 46 (100%) severe dysplasia adenoma cases, 36 (35.29%) moderate dysplasia adenoma cases, and 8 (11.76%) mild dysplasia adenoma cases, indicating malignancy. All hyperplastic polyps were negative to the DNA-instability test. Furthermore, the percentage of glands positive in the DNA-instability test steadily increased in going from mild (10%), to moderate (35%), to severe (100%) dysplasia, and adenocarcinoma (100%). All other biological markers tested in the present study showed significantly higher values in those adenoma glands that were positive to the DNA-instability test, irrespective of the dysplasia grade, as compared to the markers in the adenoma glands that were negative to DNA instability testing. Furthermore, the former values were comparable to those in adenocarcinoma. The results indicate that cancer cell clones are already present at the adenoma stages showing positivity to DNA instability testing, enhanced proliferative activity, p53 mutation and induction of DFF45 and VEGF, at a time when the degree of morphological atypia are not yet large enough for them to be identified as cancer. These factors promote cancer cell proliferation, produce heterogeneous subclones due to DNA instability, enhance their survival by escaping apoptosis, and provide abundant nutrients by neovascularization during the early-stage progression of colorectal cancer.