Neovascularization of tumor tissue (tumor angiogenesis) is considered essential for tumor growth, proliferation and eventually metastasis. Microvessel density or count, a measure of tumor angiogenesis, correlates with clinical outcome in skin, breast, lung and prostate carcinomas. To determine whether an association of tumor angiogenesis and nodal metastasis exists in invasive bladder cancer, microvessel counts in 41 primary invasive stages (T2 to 4,NX,M0) bladder cancers were assessed. Microvessels were identified by immunostaining of endothelial cells for factor VIII-related antigen. Microvessels were scored in selected areas showing active neovascularization, either counting a 200 x field (0.74 mm.2) or by using a 10 x 10 square ocular grid (0.16 mm.2). The microvessel count correlated with the presence of occult lymph node metastases (p < 0.0001) by both techniques. The mean microvessel count in 27 patients without lymph node metastases was 56.2 microvessels per 200 x field (standard deviation [SD] 29.5, range 7 to 130) or 28.6 microvessels per grid (SD 14.4, range 4 to 65). The 14 patients with histologically proved lymph node metastases showed mean 138.1 microvessels per 200 x fields (SD 37.9, range 82 to 202) or 74.7 microvessels per grid (SD 14.4, range 43 to 115). Good correlation was noted between area and grid counting (r = 0.97). Tumor T stage, grade and the presence of vascular or lymphatic invasion did not correlate with the presence of lymph node metastases (p = 0.41, 0.59 and 0.26, respectively). Microvessel count may provide important information regarding the risk of occult metastasis in patients with invasive bladder carcinomas.