The bcl-2 gene encodes for a mitochondrial membrane proto-oncoprotein, the expression of which is known to suppress programmed cell death (apoptosis). In the present study the prognostic value of bcl-2 proto-oncoprotein was immunohistochemically investigated in a series of 104 colorectal carcinomas. The bcl-2 staining patterns were semiquantitatively assessed and correlated with the pTNM stage, Dukes' classification, lymphocytic infiltration (Jass classification) and tumour grade as well as parameters not associated with prognosis (gender, age, tumour site, histological tumour type). Statistical analysis was carried out using the Kaplan-Meier method, the log-rank test, hazard ratios and their confidence intervals. Fifty-five out of 104 cases completely lacked immunohistochemical bcl-2 expression. Fewer than 5% of bcl-2-positive cells were found in 25, 5-50% in 17 and more than 50% in five cases. The extent of bcl-2 expression by tumour cells decreased significantly with respect to increasing tumour size (P < 0.05), decreasing lymphocytic infiltration (P < 0.05) and chance of poor clinical outcome (P < 0.05), but not with worsening of Dukes stages. In multivariate analysis (Cox regression model) bcl-2 expression remained as an independent prognostic parameter with Dukes' classification as stratification factor (P < 0.001). Although the biological functions of bcl-2 protein are not yet well understood, our results provide further evidence that bcl-2 oncoprotein appears to be associated with favourable clinical outcome. Thus immunohistochemical bcl-2 phenotyping of colorectal carcinoma may contribute in future to the clinical management of these patients.