Experimental work was undertaken to evaluate whether intrahepatic recurrences, observed after resection of colorectal liver metastases in humans, could be due to the activation of dormant cancer cells already present within the liver at liver resection. About 250 cell aggregates (DHDK12 colon carcinoma cell line) were injected into the portal vein of 70 BD IX rats. Eight weeks later, 43 rats with no apparent liver metastases were divided randomly into three groups: group 1(n = 15) served as control; group 2(n = 15) were given cyclosporin A(10 mg kg body-weight−1 day−1) for 28 days; and group 3 (n = 13) underwent a 70 per cent hepatectomy. Twelve weeks after the injection of cells, when the animals were killed, 20 per cent of rats in group 1 had liver metastases, 80 per cent in group 2 (P < 0.01) and 62 per cent in group 3(P < 0.05). Undetectable liver micrometastases may have been present at 8 weeks and had not developed until stimulation by cyclosporin A-induced immunosuppression or by liver regeneration after hepatectomy. A similar mechanism may occur clinically and explain some of the recurrences observed after resection of liver metastases.