The concentrations of the soluble adhesion molecules E-cadherin, E-selectin, intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) and vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) were investigated in 48 patients with colorectal cancer before treatment, and their relation to clinical, histological and routine laboratory parameters was examined. Data were collected on tumour stage at presentation, presence and sites of metastatic disease, tumour pathology and results of routine laboratory tests. Serum concentrations of ICAM-1 and VCAM-1 were significantly elevated in the patients with colorectal cancer in comparison with a group of healthy subjects (P < 0.00001). Levels of circulating ICAM-1 and VCAM-1 were increased both in patients with local and those with metastatic disease. Although elevated in some patients soluble E-cadherin and E-selectin concentrations were not significantly elevated compared with the control group (P = 0.71 and P = 0.052 respectively). The levels of circulating ICAM-1 were significantly correlated with those of VCAM-1 and E-selectin. A correlation was also found between the serum concentrations of E-selectin and ICAM-1 and alkaline phosphatase, total white cell count and platelet count. VCAM-1 was positively correlated with age and negatively with degree of tumour differentiation and haemoglobin concentration. The biological implications and possible clinical relevance of these findings are discussed.