Colon carcinoma cells overexpress c-myc due to defective Wnt signaling, but only patients whose tumors have an amplified c-myc gene show improved disease-free and overall survival in response to 5-fluoruracil (5FU). Here we show that in two colon carcinoma cell lines that do not have an amplified c-myc gene but differ in their p53 status, high c-myc levels can be further elevated by introducing a c-myc expression vector. Whereas sensitivity to low serum-induced apoptosis was imposed on the parental lines independent of p53 status and was unaffected by further elevation of c-myc, sensitivity to 5FU-induced apoptosis was dependent on both the higher c-myc levels due to the expression vector and wild-type p53 function. The elevated c-myc levels led to higher c-myc transactivation activity in the p53 wild-type cell line, but not in the mutant p53 cell line. The requirement for both elevated c-myc and p53 for 5FU sensitivity was confirmed using antisense c-myc and pifithrin-alpha, a specific inhibitor of p53. Finally, the in vitro data predicted that only patients with both amplified c-myc and wild-type p53 in their primary tumors would be responsive to 5FU-based therapy, which was borne out by analysis of tumors from 135 patients entered into a Phase III clinical trial of 5FU-based adjuvant therapy. The data provide significant insight into mechanisms that establish colon tumor cell sensitivity to 5FU, clearly demonstrate the necessity of exercising caution in considering combining novel strategies that target elevated c-myc with standard 5FU-based therapy, and suggest alternative therapeutic strategies that target c-myc and/or p53 mutations in the treatment of colon cancer.