The aim of the present study was to establish a rapid, non-radioactive screening method for the detection of microsatellite instability (MIN). MIN is the primary characteristic of the mutator phenotype in tumours constituting hereditary non-polyposis colon cancers (HNPCC). We investigated 30 patients suffering from colorectal cancer using a non-radioactive PCR-based technique. MIN was present in 7 of 30 (23%) of the cases. There was a statistically significant correlation between MIN and localization of the tumour. Five of 7 (72%) tumours with MIN but only 4 of 23 (17%) tumours without MIN were localized in the proximal colon (P < 0.01). There was a tendency to higher MIN frequency in tumours of patients with familial clustering of cancers. However, this was statistically not significant (P > 0.05). In addition, no correlation between MIN and tumour grade and stage was found. For the investigations in the present study we used a non-radioactive PCR-based method followed by denaturating polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and silver staining. This method is highly sensitive and reproducible. Thus, PCR-based analysis using a non-radioactive staining technique represents a comprehensive tool for MIN screening in diagnostic pathology.