The 5T4 oncofetal antigen is a 72 kDa glycoprotein defined by a monoclonal antibody raised against human placental trophoblast and is expressed in many different carcinomas but detected only at low levels in some normal epithelia. Immunohistochemical analysis of the patterns of expression in colorectal carcinomas has indicated a significant association between the presence of the antigen in tumour cells and metastatic spread. The 5T4 antigen phenotype of 72 colorectal cancers has been compared with the clinical outcome of the patients in order to assess its relationship with prognosis. Forty per cent of tumours were 5T4 positive; the remainder were either unlabelled or exhibited stroma-associated labelling only. There was a significant correlation between 5T4 expression in the malignant cells and unfavourable course of disease (P < 0.001). The 5 year survival with 5T4-positive tumours was 22% compared with 75% for patients with 5T4-negative tumours; median survival was 24 versus > 90 months respectively. Stratified analysis showed that 5T4 antigen tumour positivity was acting independently of each of stage, site of tumour, age or sex. There were significant differences in survival for patients with Dukes' B and C stage carcinomas (P = 0.001 and P = 0.034). The results suggest that in colorectal cancer immunohistochemical assessment of 5T4 expression may be useful in identifying patients at high risk for tumour recurrence and for whom additional treatment strategies might be most appropriate.