Dual-color interphase fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) with ETV6 and AML1 probes was used for the first time on a series of 159 adult patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), for detection of the t(12;21)(p13;q22) translocation. Seven patients (4.4%) were found, with 50-100% of positive cells, of whom one of two tested, proved negative for the fusion product by RT-PCR. Two of them, aged 43 and 50 years, are the oldest patients so far confirmed to have the translocation. Three who relapsed at 10, 11 and 24 months, suggest that adults may not enjoy the good short-term prognosis reported for t(12;21)-positive children. Thirty-one-negative cases had signal numbers differing from the two expected for each gene. In 15 cases these results were consistent with the karyotype. In nine cases with uninformative cytogenetics, the numbers were consistent with those for centromeres and indicated a hidden aneuploidy. Loss of ETV6 genes in two cases and AML1 amplification in three others were not suspected from the cytogenetics. In conclusion, FISH proved to be reliable in defining ETV6/AML1 positivity in this group of patients as well as providing valuable insights into negative cases.