The t(8;21) identifies a subgroup of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) with a relatively good prognosis which may merit different treatment. It is associated predominantly, but not exclusively, with AML M2, and corresponds to rearrangements involving the AML1 and ETO genes. AML1-ETO positive, t(8;21) negative cases are well recognized but their incidence is unknown. In order to determine optimal prospective AML1-ETO RT-PCR screening strategies, we analysed 64 unselected AML M1 and M2 cases and correlated the results with other biological parameters. Molecular screening increased the overall detection rate from 8% to 14%. AML1-ETO was found in 3% (1/32) of AML M1 and 25% (8/32) of M2, including three patients without a classic (8;21) but with chromosome 8 abnormalities. It was more common in younger patients. Correlation with morphology enabled development of a scoring system which detected all nine AML1-ETO-positive cases with a false positive rate of 7% (4/55). Although certain AML1-ETO-positive cases demonstrated characteristic immunological features (CD19 and CD34 expression, CD33 negativity), each of these markers was insufficiently specific to permit prediction in an individual case. We conclude that initial routine prospective molecular screening for AML1-ETO in all AMLs, combined with standardized morphological and immunological analysis, is desirable in order to produce improved prognostic stratification and to determine whether screening can ultimately be restricted to appropriate subgroups.