AIMS: To audit the information content of pathology reports of colorectal cancer specimens in one National Health Service region. METHODS: All reports of colorectal cancer resection specimens from the 17 NHS histopathology laboratories in Wales during 1993 were evaluated against: (a) standards previously agreed as desirable by pathologists in Wales; and (b) standards considered to be the minimum required for informed patient management. RESULTS: 1242 reports were audited. There was notable variation in the performance of different laboratories and in the completeness of reporting of individual items of information. While many items were generally well reported, only 51.5% (640/ 1242) of rectal cancer reports contained a statement on the completeness of excision at the circumferential resection margin and only 30% (373/1242) of all reports stated the number of involved lymph nodes. All of the previously agreed items were contained in only 11.3% (140/1242) of reports on colonic tumours and 4.0% (40/1242) of reports on rectal tumours. Seventy eight per cent (969/1242) of colonic carcinoma reports and 46.6% (579/ 1242) of rectal carcinoma reports met the minimum standards. CONCLUSIONS: The informational content of many routine pathology reports on colorectal cancer resection specimens is inadequate for quality patient management, for ensuring a clinically effective cancer service through audit, and for cancer registration. Template proforma reporting using nationally agreed standards is recommended as a remedy for this, along with improved education, review of laboratory practices in the light of current knowledge, and further motivation of pathologists through their involvement in multidisciplinary cancer management teams.