AIMS: Chromosomal gains and losses were surveyed by comparative genomic hybridisation (CGH) in a series of colorectal adenomas and carcinomas, in search of high risk genomic changes involved in colorectal carcinogenesis. METHODS: Nine colorectal adenomas and 14 carcinomas were analysed by CGH, and DNA ploidy was assessed with both flow and image cytometry. RESULTS: In the nine adenomas analysed, an average of 6.6 (range 1 to 11) chromosomal aberrations were identified. In the 14 carcinomas an average of 11.9 (range 5 to 17) events were found per tumour. In the adenomas the number of gains and losses was in balance (3.6 v 3.0) while in carcinomas gains occurred more often than losses (8.2 v 3.7). Frequent gains involved 13q, 7p, 8q, and 20q, whereas losses most often occurred at 18q, 4q, and 8p. Gains of 13q, 8q, and 20q, and loss of 18q occurred more often in carcinomas than in adenomas (p = 0.005, p = 0.05, p = 0.05, and p = 0.02, respectively). Aneuploid tumours showed more gains than losses (mean 9.3 v 4.9, p = 0.02), in contrast to diploid tumours where gains and losses were nearly balanced (mean 3.1 v 4.1, p = 0.5). CONCLUSIONS: The most striking difference between chromosomal aberrations in colorectal adenomas and carcinomas, as detected by CGH, is an increased number of chromosomal gains that show a nonrandom distribution. Gains of 13q and also of 20q and 8q seem especially to be involved in the progression of adenomas to carcinomas, possibly owing to low level overexpression of oncogenes at these loci.