Multi-autocrine loops of the epidermal growth factor (EGF), transforming growth factor alpha (TGF alpha), platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) and TGF beta system are expressed in human gastrointestinal carcinomas. In esophageal and gastric carcinomas, they evidently play an important role in tumor progression. Gastrin, one of the major gut hormones, may also act as an autocrine growth factor for gastric and colonic carcinomas. The HST1 and INT-2 genes, belonging to the fibroblast growth factor gene family, are coamplified in approximately 50% of primary tumors and in all the metastatic tumors of esophageal carcinoma. TGF alpha and EGF are the ligands of the tumor cells that overexpress EGF receptor in esophageal carcinomas. The synchronous expression of EGF and its receptor, as well as TGF alpha and ras p21, is evidently correlated with the depth of tumor invasion, metastasis and prognosis of gastric carcinomas. Amplification of c-erbB-2 and EGF receptor genes has been observed in many metastatic sites of gastric carcinomas regardless of histological type. In addition to TGF alpha and EGF, TGF beta and PDGF A chain produced by tumor cells may stimulate collagen synthesis not only by fibroblasts but also by tumor cells themselves, resulting in extensive progression and diffuse fibrosis of scirrhous gastric carcinomas. Moreover, TGF alpha or EGF and estrogen may also play a cooperative role in the development of scirrhous gastric carcinoma. In colorectal carcinoma, it has been shown that the accumulation of several alterations in ras genes and p53 genes is most important for the conversion of adenoma to carcinoma. Critical genetic changes, including activation of oncogenes, mutation and deletion of tumor suppressor genes and disturbances in transcriptional regulatory sequences, may bring about aberrant expression of growth factors and their receptors in gastrointestinal carcinomas. The understanding of the significance of EGF-related growth factors in tumor progression provides a framework for a biological approach to the therapy of human gastrointestinal carcinomas. 8-Cl-cAMP, which inhibits expression of oncogenes and TGF alpha, may be useful not only for cancer therapy but also for the study of cell differentiation.