Adenocarcinoma of the small intestine (ASI) is a rare disease of unknown aetiology. The glutathione S-transferase M1 (GSTM1) enzyme catalyses the detoxification of compounds involved in carcinogenesis of adenocarcinoma of the stomach, colon and lung, including constituents of tobacco smoke. We investigated a possible interaction between the lack of GSTM1 enzyme activity and the carcinogenic compounds of tobacco smoke. Based on the theory that certain carcinogens cause specific point mutations in the p53 gene we analysed by single strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) and sequencing, p53 exon 5-8 of 52 samples of ASI collected in Sweden, Germany, France, Italy and Denmark between 1995 and 1997. The GSTM1 gene status was investigated by multiplex PCR. The prevalence of GSTM1 negative genotype among cases with ASI was 69% and higher than previous reports of 50% suggesting a higher risk of ASI among GSTM1 negative compared with GSTM1 positive subjects. A 'case-only' approach was used to address the combined association between the GSTM1 negative genotype and lifestyle exposures in patients with ASI. Using this method, heavy smokers (> 20 pack-years) with the GSTM1 negative genotype had an odds ratio of 4.8; 95% confidence interval (CI) (0.6-38.7) for ASI as compared to smokers who expressed GSTM1. No similar association between alcohol consumption and ASI was found. No p53 mutations in exon 5-8 were found in these samples, but the method may not be sensitive enough to identify smaller differences. Thus p53 does not seem to be the target of carcinogens acting in the small intestine.