Tumour growth is angiogenesis dependent. Some authors suggest a prognostic role of microvessel count in colorectal cancer. We tested the role of basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in the switch to the angiogenic phenotype in 35 patients with colorectal cancer at different stages of disease. We evaluated the two angiogenic factors, by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), in tumour, peritumoral mucosa, pathological mesenteric and peripheral blood. We used ten endoscopic intestinal biopsies and ten peripheral blood samples from healthy subjects as control. bFGF was significantly lower in tumour tissues and in peritumoral mucosas than in healthy mucosas, whereas VEGF was up-regulated in tumours but not in peritumoral mucosa. Both angiogenic factors were greatly increased in mesenteric blood. VEGF tumour and serum levels were significantly correlated with the stage of disease. bFGF tumour and serum concentration were not correlated with the stage of disease. The high levels of bFGF in mesenteric blood suggest that this growth factor might be abnormally released from tumour tissue and peritumoral mucosa and could function as an early effector in the switch to the angiogenic phenotype. In contrast, VEGF, whose levels show a significant correlation with the stage of disease, could act in a following step, supporting tumour progression.