Several studies have shown that the presence of DNA content abnormalities, measured by flow cytometry, may correlate with a poor prognosis in a variety of cancers. The predictive value of DNA content in patients with small rectal cancers has not been well determined. Thirty-nine patients with primary rectal adenocarcinoma smaller than 3 cm were studied in a comparison of DNA content with established prognostic variables. The following covariates were evaluated for their prognostic value: sex, age, tumor size, location, distal margin, Dukes' classification, tumor differentiation, and DNA content. DNA content was assessed by flow cytometric analysis, and each tumor was categorized as diploid or nondiploid. Of the parameters studied, Dukes' classification and tumor DNA content were found to be independent prognostic indicators. Determination of DNA content seems to provide additional useful prognostic information in patients with small rectal tumors.