Mutations in codon 12, 13, or 61 of one of the three ras genes, H-ras, K-ras, and N-ras, convert these genes into active oncogenes. Rapid assays for the detection of these point mutations have been developed recently and used to investigate the role mutated ras genes play in the pathogenesis of human tumors. It appeared that ras gene mutations can be found in a variety of tumor types, although the incidence varies greatly. The highest incidences are found in adenocarcinomas of the pancreas (90%), the colon (50%), and the lung (30%); in thyroid tumors (50%); and in myeloid leukemia (30%). For some tumor types a relationship may exist between the presence of a ras mutation and clinical or histopathological features of the tumor. There is some evidence that environmental agents may be involved in the induction of the mutations.