A series of colon carcinomas, adenomas, and adjacent tissues were analyzed for ploidy alterations and mutations in KRAS2. To increase the sensitivity for identifying mutations, we used histological enrichment, cell sorting, and DNA amplification by the polymerase-catalyzed chain reaction followed by direct DNA sequence analysis. Of the 40 carcinomas analyzed, 27 contained aneuploid cells and 26 contained mutations at the first position of codon 12 of KRAS2. Of the 12 adenomas studied, 4 contained aneuploid cells and 9 contained the same mutation at codon 12. In both adenomas and carcinomas, mutations were identified in both diploid and aneuploid cells. In some cases, regions of histologically benign mucosa adjacent to the carcinoma contained mutations. These combined results suggest that mutations in KRAS2 occur early in the development of human colon carcinoma, before change in ploidy, and that these mutations exist in diploid cells from which an aneuploid subpopulation arises. Furthermore, mutations may exist in histologically normal mucosa in regions adjacent to carcinoma, suggesting that a field of genetically abnormal mucosa may surround these tumors.