To examine the hypothesis that colorectal carcinomas with and without TP53 mutations may be characterised by aetiological heterogeneity, we analysed a group of 107 patients with primary Dukes' C colorectal cancer seen at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) from 1986 to 1990. We assessed p53 overexpression using the monoclonal antibody PAb 1801, and identified 42 (39%) patients displaying p53-positive phenotype, defined as > or = 25% of positive cells. Patients with two or more first-degree relatives with cancer had an odds ratio (OR) of 2.9 (95% CI 1.0-8.3) for p53 overexpression in comparison with those without a family history of cancer (trend test, P = 0.11). A possible association between body weight and p53 overexpression was observed. The ORs were 1.9 for the second quartile, 1.9 for the third quartile and 3.4 for the highest quartile in comparison with the lowest quartile (trend test, P = 0.06). No association between occupational physical activity, smoking, drinking, parity and p53 overexpression was identified. The results suggest that p53 overexpression may be related to genetic predisposition to colorectal cancer, and p53-positive and p53-negative colorectal cancers may be controlled by different aetiological pathways.