Capillary electrophoresis (CE) has become recognized as a powerful tool for the characterization of DNA. It has numerous advantages over slab-gel electrophoresis in that it is fast, highly reproducible and easy to automate. It is well known for its contribution to success in sequencing the human genome, but it is equally important in a wide range of forensic and pharmaceutical applications. Of these applications, CE plays a large and important role in mutation scanning and DNA sizing. From the author's laboratory, three previously published examples are given of clinical applications in this area that have benefited from the use of capillary electrophoresis: the detection of p53 mutations by single strand conformational polymorphism, the analysis of fragile X syndrome and the measurement of telomerase activity. There are many examples from other laboratories where CE has played an important role in this field. For acceptance by the medical community, there must be a clear demonstration that capillary electrophoresis can replace and improve previous slab-gel methods. In this regard, the examples given in this review help to demonstrate that CE can replace previous slab-gel methods and show that CE can improve a wide range of applications in the medical field.