To study the possible role of ras oncogene activation in the dissemination of colon cancer, we determined point mutations in codons 12, 13 and 61 in K- and N-ras in 3 groups of tumors: (A) primary tumors of patients who had undergone surgery for Dukes' B (early-stage) colon cancer, (B) primary tumors and metastases from patients undergoing resection of isolated lung metastases and (C) primary tumors and metastases from patients undergoing resection of isolated liver metastases. In 129 samples from 93 patients, 54 (42%) were positive for point mutations in either K- or N-ras. Most mutations (89%) were found in the K-ras gene. In group A (n = 50) ras point mutations were detected in 16 cases (32%) (15 in K-ras and 1 in N-ras). Thirteen out of 23 cases in group B (57%) were positive for a ras point mutation: 10 in K-ras and 3 in N-ras. In group C (n = 20), point mutations in codon 12 of K-ras, but none in H- or N-ras, were found in 10 cases (50%). In 31 cases the primary tumors from the metastases in groups B and C were available for analysis and 15 contained a ras point mutation (48%). Not all mutations were present in both the primary tumor and the metastasis. In 3 instances, a mutation was detected in the metastasis but not in the primary tumor, whereas in 1 case a mutation was found in the primary tumor.