Aberrant crypt foci (ACF) are putative preneoplastic lesions that might represent the earliest morphological lesion visible in colonic carcinogenesis. However, findings concerning the growth and morphological features of these lesions in human studies suggest that ACF are highly heterogeneous in nature. In this study, we evaluated the morphological features of a large number of ACF in colon mucosa of 26 patients with colorectal carcinoma (CRC), four patients with adenoma as well as seven patients with nonneoplastic colonic diseases. By dissecting microscope, 508 ACF were identified, and of these, 378 were sampled for histological examination. The median ACF density (number of ACF/cm2) was significantly higher in the left colon than in the right colon (0.047 v 0.014 ACF/cm2). Unexpectedly, in our series, the overall ACF density was higher in the nonneoplastic colonic diseases than in CRC (0.13 v 0.032 ACF/cm2, P=.0087), cases of nonneoplastic diseases, however, being limited to 7 patients. ACF were significantly larger in colons with CRC or adenoma than in colons with nonneoplastic disease (P < .03). On histological examination, we observed 133 ACF with normal epithelium, 189 ACF with hyperplasia, 27 ACF with atypical hyperplasia, and 29 ACF with dysplasia. We noted a progressive increase of median ACF size from normal mucosa to hyperplasia, atypical hyperplasia, and dysplasia. Dysplastic ACF were more frequently observed in patients with CRC or adenoma and showed predominantly elongated crypt orifices (P < .0001). We conclude that ACF are histologically heterogeneous, encompass a spectrum of lesions of which only a subset are associated with dysplasia and then represent an early step in colorectal carcinogenesis. ACF with dysplasia are characterized by larger size, elongated crypt orifices, and an association with CRC.