Adenomas that contain early invasive carcinoma (ACIC) represent the earliest form of clinically relevant cancer of the colorectum in most patients. In order to assess the incidence of nodal metastases of ACIC, we studied 31 patients in whom the colon was resected after endoscopic polypectomy (EP) done from 1975 to 1987. We also reviewed the pathologic features reported in individual cases and in literature series of ACIC with lymph node metastases published from 1958 to 1986. The lymph node metastatic potential of ACIC is relatively high, ranging from an average value of 8.5% in the literature of to 16.1% in our own study, and is equivalent to the range of 10%-17% that occurs in colorectal carcinomas that invade the submucosa. When an ACIC is seen in an EP specimen in which the polypectomy margin is normal, the decision as to whether the patient should enter a follow-up protocol or have radical surgical resection is determined by the assessment of the probability of the occurrence of nodal metastases. According to several authors, certain histopathologic features make it possible to distinguish between an ACIC with a high-risk of nodal metastases versus those with a low-risk. The most relevant pathologic parameters include the state of the resection margins, the grade of the invasive carcinoma, and the presence or absence of vascular invasion. Of 351 cases of ACIC that were operated on, derived from 16 literature series, 45.6% were high-risk cases and 8.5% had lymph node metastases. In our group of high-risk ACIC that had surgical resection subsequently, the lymph node metastatic rate was 35.7%. Our results help to estimate the nodal metastatic potential of early colorectal carcinomas and stress the importance of adequate pathologic evaluation in order to assess metastatic risk in these patients accurately.