Immunocytochemistry (ICC) has been used routinely to stain for p53 overexpression in a range of human tumours. The underlying assumption has been that positive staining indicates a mutation in the p53 coding sequence. Recently, however, discordancy has been observed and the accuracy of ICC as a marker of p53 gene mutation has been questioned. In this study of 109 colorectal adenocarcinomas, we compared ICC staining with p53 gene mutations detected by single-strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) analysis. Concordancy between the two techniques was found in 69% of tumours. ICC-positive/SSCP-negative cases accounted for 20% of tumours and ICC-negative/SSCP-positive cases for the remaining 11%. These results caution against the assumption that p53 protein overexpression is always associated with a gene mutation. Epigenetic phenomena may account for a significant proportion of ICC-positive tumours.