We analyzed the proliferative activities, immunoreactivity of the p53 protein, and aneuploidy in patients with benign and malignant fibrous lesions, including 19 with nodular fasciitis (cellular type) (6-88 years old, mean 42.9), 11 with abdominal fibromatoses (22-74 years old, mean 37.9), 13 with extraabdominal fibromatoses (2-38 years old, mean 19.5), and 23 with fibrosarcomas (adult type: 16-71 years old, mean 47.3; infantile type: 3 months to 9 years, mean 2.9) using immunohistochemistry to determine proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PC10) and p53 protein (CM1) as well as performing DNA flow cytometry. The proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) score was measured as the ratio of PCNA-positive nuclear size/total nuclear size determined by an image analysis computer system. The distribution pattern of the PCNA-positive cells was uneven in each instance of nodular fasciitis, in contrast to the distribution in abdominal fibromatosis, extraabdominal fibromatosis, and fibrosarcoma. Both fibrosarcoma (28.4 +/- 20.0) and nodular fasciitis (33.6 +/- 20.9) exhibited a larger value and a greater variation in the PCNA score than did either abdominal (13.5 +/- 14.5) or extraabdominal fibromatosis (19.9 +/- 21.5). Abdominal fibromatosis exhibited a smaller value and less variation in the score. In short, the PCNA score did not correlate with the malignant potential. The proliferative index (S + G2 + M fraction) in fibrosarcoma was significantly higher than in either nodular fasciitis or abdominal fibromatosis. Aneuploidy was detected in five cases (26%) of fibrosarcoma, while six (26%) fibrosarcomas showed p53 positivity. Furthermore, p53-positive patients had a worse survival (0.01 < p < 0.05), and p53 positivity correlated with the proliferative index (p < 0.01). In conclusion, the PCNA score simply indicates the proliferative activity independent of malignant potential. On the other hand, p53 positivity, proliferative index, and aneuploidy are all indicators of malignant potential in fibroblastic lesions, and p53 positivity may reflect a poor prognosis.