Twenty-four colorectal tumors and their paired mucosa were examined for allele loss on chromosomes 5 and 17, using polymerase chain reaction-amplified DNA, and for mutations in the Ki-ras and p53 genes. In addition, 19 benign polyps were analysed for mutations in the p53 gene. RFLP analysis of the long arm of chromosome 5 indicated an allele loss frequency of 47% for malignant tumors, a value somewhat higher than previously observed. Examination of the short arm of chromosome 17 indicated an allele loss of 60%. Sequence analysis of the p53 gene in colorectal tumors indicated that 64% contained a mutation. All tumors showing allele loss on chromosome 17 were mutant for p53, suggesting that mutation of one p53 allele precedes the hemizygotic loss of the wild-type allele. Sequence analysis of the p53 gene in 19 benign polyps, devoid of severe dysplasia, did not reveal any mutants, suggesting that the mutation of one p53 allele is an event that takes place after polyp formation. Ki-ras mutations were observed in 48% of the tumors examined. All tumors which were mutant for Ki-ras, except for one, were also mutant for p53.