The present study was undertaken to establish the incidence of t(14;18) (q32:q21) chromosomal translocations detectable by a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay on fixed lymphoma biopsies. DNA samples from 113 formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue biopsies (non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, 96 cases; Hodgkin's disease, six cases; reactive, 11 cases) were amplified by the PCR. Of the 96 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cases, 56 had a follicular pattern and 40 had a diffuse pattern. Polymerase chain reaction-amplifiable t(14;18) chromosomal translocations were detected in 23 of 43 follicular low-grade lymphomas, one of eight follicular intermediate grade lymphomas, one of five follicular high-grade lymphomas, and one of 10 diffuse large-cell lymphomas. The remaining 30 diffuse lymphomas represented the spectrum of the Working Formulation classification. There were six biopsy specimens of Hodgkin's disease and 11 biopsy specimens of follicular hyperplasia; all were negative. The translocation was not detected in 16 biopsies (non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, seven cases; follicular hyperplasia, nine cases) from patients infected with the human immunodeficiency virus. Since this procedure uses the widely available fixed paraffin-embedded material, correlative studies between histology and genetic aberrations can be readily undertaken.