The striking differences in the histological features of gastric cancers in young and old adults have been thought to be related to differences in the biological behavior of these cancers. Recently, a new grading system (Goseki's classification) showed that the prognosis of the patient is particularly related to the mucin content of the carcinoma. In this study, we examined differences in mucin antigen expression in cancers from young and old adults and whether antigen expression is related to the clinical outcome. The expression of two mucin core proteins (DF3 antigen [MUC1 gene product] and MRP antigen [MUC2 gene product] and a mucin-type carbohydrate antigen [sialosyl-Tn; STn]) was examined immunohistochemically in gastric cancers from 69 young adults (30 to 39 years of age) and 110 old adults (80 to 89 years of age). The incidence rates of the three histological types (tubular adenocarcinoma, poorly differentiated adenocarcinoma, and signet-ring cell carcinoma) were different in the young and old adults. However, among the mucin antigens examined, only DF3 showed significantly higher frequency of expression in the old adults, and the difference was seen only in tubular adenocarcinomas (young, 43%; old, 68%) and poorly differentiated adenocarcinomas (young, 19%; old, 49%). In these two histological types, there was no difference in the frequency of MRP or STn expression between the young and old adults, although the old adults showed a high incidence of intestinal metaplasia that was positive for both antigens. Signet-ring cell carcinomas showed no significant difference in expression rates of the three antigens in young and old adults, but there were significantly higher expression rates in young patients for both MRP (young, 67%; old, 65%) and STn (young, 71%; old, 57%) and a lower rate of DF3 expression (young, 0%; old, 14%). In both young and old adults, the patients with DF3-positive carcinomas showed significantly poorer survival than those without DF3 expression, whereas there was not significant difference in the survival of the patient groups with positive and negative MRP or STn reactivity. In conclusion, the expression of DF3 was influenced by the age of patients and was related to the outcome. In contrast, MRP and STn expression was related more to the histological pattern of the tumor than to the age of the patient and did not correlate with the outcome.