Mutations to the K-ras oncogene and p53 tumor suppressor gene are two of the most common genetic lesions in human cancers. In the present study we examined the clonality of colorectal tumors with respect to each of these genetic alterations. Screening for mutations was carried out using the polymerase chain reaction-based technique of single-strand conformation polymorphism. Eleven primary colorectal adenocarcinomas and two secondary adenocarcinomas were analyzed at four different sites within the tumor. Involved pericolic lymph nodes were collected from nine of these cases, a metastatic deposit in the liver was obtained in one case, and adjacent adenomatous lesions were collected in two cases. Seven tumors contained mutations in either the K-ras or p53 genes. In all cases, DNA derived from multiple sites within an individual tumor or metastatic deposits arising from that tumor showed the same pattern of gene mutation. Immunohistochemical staining for p53 protein overexpression also showed similar patterns of reactivity within individual tumors and their metastatic deposits. These results suggest that the major clonal expansion of colorectal carcinomas occurs after the acquisition of mutations in these genes. Our results also indicate that sampling errors are unlikely to occur in molecular studies aimed at defining the role of these genes in colorectal cancer progression.