The results of this multicentre autopsy study emphasize the relationship between the prevalence of adenomas and the incidence of large-bowel cancer. The highest proportion of autopsies with adenomas was observed in the area with the highest incidence of large-bowel cancer. The segmental distribution of adenomas within the colon was found to be similar to the site distribution of cancer. However, the lowest proportion of adenomas was found in the rectum, the segment in which cancer is most frequent. The latter finding suggests that either the adenoma-carcinoma sequence is a less important pathway in the pathogenesis of rectal cancer, or that more rectal than colonic adenomas become malignant. The high proportion of hyperplastic polyps in the rectum, and statistically significant regional differences following the same patterns as the incidence of rectal cancer suggest that there could be at least an indirect relationship between hyperplastic polyps and cancer of the rectum. Adenomas of both colon and rectum were more frequent in men than in women, contrary to findings with colon cancer. However, as for colon cancer, the sex ratio of adenomas changed with age, from slightly below unity in persons under 65, to above unity for those aged 65 and over. A major difficulty that emerged was the histological identification of ‘polyps’ because of the degree of autolysis of epithelial cells in the mucous membrane, and this difficulty largely contributed to the poor consistency of histological reporting. Regular consistency surveys of histological preparations should be recommended in any type of multicentre study in which histological examination is included.