This study assessed whether low-level microsatellite instability (MSI-L) is a phenomenon specific to colorectal cancers or is also present in other tumour types. Breast (grade III ductal and lobular), endometrial and ovarian carcinomas, as well as colorectal cancers, were analysed for MSI-L using eight microsatellite markers. The markers were selected from a panel that had previously been shown to be sensitive for the detection of MSI-L in colorectal cancers. It was found that MSI-L was present in 30 of 87 (35%) colorectal cancers, 2 of 59 (3%) grade III breast carcinomas, 1 of 35 (3%) lobular breast cancers, 16 of 50 (32%) endometrial cancers, and 9 of 34 (26%) ovarian cancers. These results suggest that MSI-L is a very rare occurrence in breast carcinomas, but does occur as a real phenomenon in colorectal, endometrial, and ovarian carcinomas, which are all part of the hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC) syndrome. PCR artefact was also found to masquerade as MSI-L; criteria for the assessment of MSI-L are suggested to eliminate this problem.