The expression frequency of common fragile sites induced by aphidicolin (Apc), bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU), and caffeine was evaluated on prometaphase chromosomes obtained from the peripheral blood lymphocytes of 32 patients with colon cancer, 30 of their clinically healthy family members and 30 age-matched normal controls. The proportion of-damaged cells (P < 0.001), the mean number of chromosomal aberrations and the expression frequencies of fragile sites were significantly higher in the patient and relative groups compared to the control group. Our findings show an increased genetic instability in patients with colon cancer and their first-degree relatives. In addition, common fragile sites can be used as a suitable marker for determining genetic predisposition to cancer. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.