Chemotherapeutic management of ovarian cancers is a difficult task as these neoplasms show significant differences in chemosensitivity, even if they share identical clinicopathological features. The present study was undertaken to investigate the prognostic and predictive role of p53 alterations in ovarian cancer. To this end, using different technical approaches, i.e. genetic and immunohistochemical analyses, we analysed a series of 68 ovarian neoplasms including 15 low malignant potential (LMP) tumours and 53 invasive carcinomas. We never observed p53 abnormalities in LMP tumours. p53 alterations were present only in invasive ovarian carcinomas, and they were detected much more frequently in tumours characterized by high histological grade (P = 0.01) and advanced-stage disease (P = 0.006 and P = 0.05 for gene mutations and protein expression respectively). For 33 patients with invasive ovarian cancer, information was available concerning response to cisplatin-based chemotherapy. A strong correlation (P = 0.001) has emerged between p53 alterations and response to chemotherapy; only one (14%) of seven patients who had a pathological complete response to antiblastic drugs showed p53 aberrations, whereas 18 (82%) of 22 cases with partial response and all of the four non-responsive patients scored positive for p53 abnormalities. We also observed that patients with p53 mutations had a significantly shorter progression-free survival than patients with p53-negative tumours (P = 0.05). Taken together, our results strongly suggest that in epithelial ovarian malignancies tumours showing p53 aberrations are significantly less sensitive to chemotherapy and more aggressive than those with functional p53. Thus, a routine analysis of this gene could have profound implications for the treatment of ovarian cancer.