BACKGROUND: Mucin 4 (MUC4) is aberrantly expressed in colorectal adenocarcinomas (CRCs) but its prognostic value is unknown. METHODS: Archival tissue specimens collected from 132 CRC patients who underwent surgical resection without presurgery or postsurgery therapy were evaluated for expression of MUC4 by using a mouse monoclonal antibody and horseradish peroxidase. MUC4 expression levels were correlated with clinicopathologic features and patient survival. Survival was estimated by both univariate Kaplan-Meier and multivariate Cox regression methods. RESULTS: In both normal colonic epithelium and CRCs, MUC4 staining was localized primarily in the cytoplasm. The optimal immunostaining cutoff value (>or=75% positive cells and an immunostaining score>or=2.0), which was derived by using the bootstrap method, was used to categorize CRCs into groups of high expression (33 of 132 patients; 25%) or low expression (99 of 132 patients; 75%). Patients who had early stage tumors (stages I and II) with high MUC4 expression had a shorter disease-specific survival (log-rank; P=.007) than patients who had with low expression. Patients who had advanced-stage CRCs (stages III and IV) did not demonstrate such a difference (log-rank; P=.108). Multivariate regression models that were generated separately for patients with early stage and advanced-stage CRC confirmed that increased expression of MUC4 was an independent indicator of a poor prognosis only for patients who had early stage CRCs (hazard ratio, 3.77; 95% confidence interval, 1.46-9.73). CONCLUSIONS: The current results indicated that increased MUC4 expression is a predictor of poor survival in CRC, specifically for patients who have early stage tumors.