Several groups have recently isolated and characterized an inhibitor of cyclin-dependent kinases, p21CIP1/WAF1 which is transcriptionally induced by wild-type but not mutant p53. It is likely that p21CIP1/WAF1 mediates the growth suppression effects of p53 by arresting the cell cycle at the G1/S checkpoint, and by inducing apoptosis. To test the hypothesis that primary human tumors have mutations in the CIP1/WAF1 gene which propagates the carcinogenic process, we examined primary breast and sarcoma tumor specimens for alterations in the CIP1/WAF1 gene. Unique, or acquired somatic mutations were not observed indicating that they are not selected for during the carcinogenic process; however, two common variants were identified. The variants were not unique to tumors as 10.7% of normal individuals exhibited the variants. Nonetheless, the frequency of the variants in tumors with wild-type p53 (20.4%) was significantly greater (p = 0.05) than in normal DNAs. In contrast, the frequency of the variants (4.1%) was found to be significantly lower in tumors with p53 mutations (p = 0.006). These data suggest that the occurrence of the variants may have a direct effect on tumor development and may, in some cases, be incompatible with p53 mutations.