DNA ploidy of 64 colorectal adenomas and 49 adenocarcinomas, examined endoscopically, was studied by flow cytometry. We found DNA aneuploidy in none of the 105 normal mucosa samples (0%), in 20 adenomas (31%), and in 36 adenocarcinomas (74%). DNA ploidy of adenomas correlated with size (P = 0.02) and degree of dysplasia (P less than 0.01) but not with histologic type. Adenomas had a 45% incidence of DNA aneuploid stem lines in the DNA index range of 0.80-1.20, compared with 8% in the case of adenocarcinomas. The distribution of the DNA index values of adenocarcinomas was approximately normal, with a mean value 1.63 +/- 0.28. The mean DNA index for the three cases of "carcinoma in adenoma" with invasion of the stalk of the adenoma was 1.52 +/- 0.18. These results, using DNA flow cytometry, provide evidence for the progression of colorectal adenoma to adenocarcinoma. The classification of adenomas according to DNA ploidy may be information of considerable practical value to the clinician in predicting risk of further adenomas and/or risk of cancer.