Expression of the telomerase reverse transcriptase subunit telomerase reverse transcriptase gene is associated with most human malignancies. Because telomerase reverse transcriptase is rarely expressed in normal tissue, its presence in pathologic specimens is considered a marker of transformed cells. Moreover, high levels of expression have been correlated with poor prognosis in many cancers. Although telomerase activity has been found in chondrosarcomas, its prognostic significance in these malignant cartilage tumors is unknown. Malignancy in cartilage-derived tumors is assessed routinely by histomorphologic grading, but even well differentiated, low-grade lesions can metastasize. This unpredictable behavior greatly complicates the clinical treatment of cartilage tumors, making better prognostic indicators desirable. To address this issue we used immunohistochemistry to compare telomerase reverse transcriptase expression in a collection of 61 tumors consisting of malignant chondrosarcomas of varying grade and benign enchondromas. Associated case histories were reviewed to test the hypothesis that telomerase reverse transcriptase expression levels correlated with subsequent tumor recurrence. We found that the relative abundance of telomerase reverse transcriptase-expressing cells correlated significantly with grade and recurrence. These findings indicate that telomerase reverse transcriptase immunostaining may be a useful adjunct to the conventional three-level grading system.