Microsatellite instability (MI) and K-ras oncogene mutation have been widely used as biomarkers of genetic changes in colorectal cancer (CRC). Each of these biomarkers was independently found in normal-appearing colonic mucosa at stages preceding the development of CRC, albeit at a relatively low incidence. To assess the potential value of combined MI and K-ras mutation analysis in the detection of normal-appearing colonic mucosa samples taken from patients with CRC, we have chosen to analyze multiple (3-7) normal colonic mucosa samples and the respective colorectal tumor tissues from 20 patients with CRC. As a control, we have used 54 normal mucosa samples obtained from 9 autopsies of patients without CRC. In at least 1 of 5 loci analyzed, MI was found in 8 of 20 patients via analysis of multiple normal-appearing colonic mucosa samples from each patient. Combined analysis of MI and mutant ras alleles in normal-appearing colonic mucosa samples enabled the identification of 11 of 20 patients with CRC. None of the 54 normal colonic mucosa samples obtained from 9 patients without CRC were found to carry mutant ras or MI. The ability to detect 55% of patients with CRC via the analysis of normal mucosa samples provides an important advance in our approach toward early detection of individuals who may be at risk to develop this tumor type.