Microallelotyping of many regions from individual colorectal tumours was used to determine the sequence and tempo of allelic loss on 5q, 17p and 18q during neoplastic progression. No allelic losses were found in normal tissues surrounding colorectal neoplasms, but losses occurred abruptly on 5q at the transition from normal colonic epithelium to the benign adenoma, and on 17p at the transition from adenoma to carcinoma, indicating an essential role for these losses in tumour progression. Allelic losses were uniform throughout extensively microdissected benign adenomas and carcinomas. However, substantial allelic heterogeneity was found in high-grade dysplasia, the transition lesion between adenoma and carcinoma. Thus, allelic losses on 5q and 17p are associated with abrupt waves of clonal neoplastic expansion, and high-grade dysplasia is characterized by a high degree of allelic heterogeneity.