The expression of oncogenes (c-myc, c-fos, c-Ki-ras, c-Ha-ras, and p53) was examined by Northern blot analysis using freshly isolated human colorectal and gastric cancers and noncancerous portions as the controls. Remarkably high levels of c-myc expression were found in colorectal cancers (eight of 11), but not in gastric cancers. High levels of c-myc expression were also detected in colorectal polyps and in metastatic liver tumors. In colorectal polyps, the transcript levels significantly correlated with the histologic malignancy and the size. In contrast, neither c-fos nor c-Ki-ras was overexpressed in colorectal and gastric cancers, and transcripts of c-Ha-ras and p53 were not evident in any tissue examined. In light of these observations the c-myc expression may be specifically associated with the evolution of colorectal cancer as well as progression and maintenance stages, hence may prove to be a useful marker to evaluate the malignant potential of colorectal polyps.