Bronchioloalveolar carcinoma (BAC) is a particular type of adenocarcinoma of the lung which accounts for up to 9 per cent of pulmonary malignancies. The aetiology and pathogenesis of this unique neoplastic disease are still unclear. Three histological subtypes of BAC have been recognized: mucinous, non-mucinous, and sclerosing. Of these, mucinous and sclerosing BAC have a worse prognosis than non-mucinous tumours. The different morphological patterns and clinical outcomes of the subtypes of BAC suggest differences in their biological behaviour. Previous reports have shown that the mucinous form of BAC is characterized by constant mutations at codon 12 of the K-ras gene, whereas the other two histotypes show a frequency of K-ras mutations which is not different from that observed in conventional lung adenocarcinomas. The present study of a series of 51 BACs, previously investigated for K-ras gene mutations, has evaluated the status of two other genes, p53 and FHIT, known to be frequently altered in non-small cell lung cancer. Loss of heterozygosity at microsatellite-containing loci located within the FHIT gene was observed in 22 (43 per cent) BACs. The distribution of FHIT gene abnormalities was not statistically different in the three histological subtypes. p53 mutations were present in 13 (32 per cent) non-mucinous/sclerosing BACs, while no mutations were seen in mucinous tumours (P = 0.039). Correlations with clinicopathological parameters showed that p53 mutations in BACs are associated with more aggressive tumours. No correlations were observed between FHIT or K-ras gene abnormalities and clinicopathological data. In conclusion, these results indicate that FHIT alterations are frequently involved in BAC tumourigenesis and that genetic changes in the p53 and K-ras genes can distinguish between different histotypes of BAC.