A member of a hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) family developed two colorectal cancers and multiple polyps within four years of a negative colonoscopic examination. One of the cancers was only 4 mm in diameter and showed the gross and endoscopic appearances of a de novo carcinoma. Microscopic examination of multiple levels revealed a mixed hyperplastic polyp/adenoma (mixed polyp) in contiguity with the cancer. The colon harboured additional polyps of which five were tubular adenomas, seven were hyperplastic polyps and seven were mixed polyps (architecturally compatible with hyperplastic polyps but with atypical cytology). Atypical features of the mixed polyps included tripolar mitoses, bizarre chromatin aggregations and multinucleation. One mixed polyp showed DNA microsatellite instability. Under the influence of the mutator defect, hyperplastic polyps may develop atypical or adenomatous features and show progression to carcinoma. Such an alternative morphogenetic pathway could explain the differing molecular and pathological profiles of cancers showing DNA microsatellite instability.