A series of 44 sporadic mucinous colorectal carcinomas was analysed for microsatellite instability; 30 consecutive sporadic non-mucinous colorectal cancers served as controls. Mucinous carcinomas showed microsatellite instability more frequently than non-mucinous cancers: 26/44 and 8/30, respectively (P = 0.005); the difference was higher for cancers with two or more microsatellite alterations: 12 of the 44 mucinous carcinomas versus one of the 30 non-mucinous carcinomas (P = 0.007). On comparing the clinico-pathological features of mucinous carcinomas with and without microsatellite instabilities, no differences were found with respect to the following variables; sex ratio, tumour localization, tumour size, peritumoural lymphocytic infiltration, Crohn's-like lymphoid reaction, peritumoural fibrosis, Dukes' stage, and relationship with adenoma. Mucinous cancers with DNA replication errors were characterized by three features: onset in younger patients (P < 0.05); exophytic gross shape (P = 0.03); and an expanding pattern of growth (P = 0.003). Of the 12 mucinous carcinomas with instability in two or more microsatellites, ten (83.3 per cent) exhibited an expanding pattern of growth, while mucinous cancers with instability in one microsatellite or without genomic instability showed no distinctive growth pattern. This study confirms the relationship between microsatellite instabilities and mucin production in colorectal carcinomas, but shows that replication error RER-positive and RER-negative mucinous cancers differ in few clinico-pathological features. These differences are only in part similar to those previously reported in RER-positive colorectal carcinomas. These data indicate that mucinous carcinoma of the large bowel could represent a histological subset separate from other histotypes.