Ras gene mutations occur relatively early during colorectal tumor development and have been observed in 40-50% of malignant colorectal tumors. Advances in endoscopic techniques have made it possible to detect small, flat colorectal tumors that could not be detected by standard examinations. To determine whether ras gene mutations are also involved in the genesis of small, flat colorectal tumors, we examined ras point mutations in 34 cases of small polypoid or flat elevated colorectal tumors (32 adenomas, 2 carcinomas) and in 26 cases of small, flat colorectal tumors (13 adenomas, 13 carcinomas) by means of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and dot-blot hybridization. Ras gene point mutations were observed in 16 of the 34 tumors of the former type (47%), but in none of the 26 tumors of the latter type, even though the grade of dysplasia was severe in the flat tumors. Our results suggest that different genetic pathways for tumor progression may exist for polypoid and for flat colorectal carcinomas.