Background: In men with prostate cancer, the gland usually contains two or more widely separate tumors. A critical issue of prostatic carcinogenesis is whether these multiple tumors are independent in origin. Molecular analysis of microsatellite (i.e., highly repeated, short nucleotide sequences) alterations in the DNA from separate tumors in the same prostate can be used to determine whether or not these separate tumors arise independently. Methods: Four microsatellite polymorphic markers (D8S133, D8S136, and D8S137, for a putative tumor suppressor gene on chromosome 8p, and D17S855, for the BRCA1 gene on chromosome 17q) were used to examine the pattern of allelic loss in prostate cancer from 19 patients who had two or more distantly separate tumors (i.e., located on contralateral sides or separated by at least half the anterior-posterior diameter of the prostate). Forty distantly separate tumors were microdissected, DNA samples were prepared from formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded wholemount prostate tissue section, and the overall frequencies of loss of heterozygosity at the four loci were determined. Results: The pattern of allelic loss was compatible with independent tumor origin in 15 of 18 informative cases. A random discordant pattern of allelic deletion was observed in distantly separate tumors, whereas the same allele was consistently lost in cells from different regions of the same tumor. For three patients, the results were compatible with either intraglandular dissemination or independent origin of prostate cancer. Conclusions: Our data suggest that multiple tumors in some patients with prostate cancer have independent origin.