Background. Most non-invasive urothelial tumours of the bladder are diagnosed as papillary carcinomas in accordance with the WHO classification and because the identification of papillomas is difficult by routine histology; some patients are therefore misdiagnosed. This practice is associated with psychological morbidity for the patient and may also skew cancer statistics. Cytokeratin 20 (CK20) is a sensitive marker of urothelial differentiation. We investigated whether this marker could be used in the identification of urothelial papillomas and used the rate of recurrence as an indicator to assess the biological behaviour of such tumours. Methods. In a prospective study, immunocytochemistry for CK20 was done on tumours of all patients who presented for the first time with non-invasive papillary bladder tumours. We classified the expression pattern of CK20 as normal or abnormal at the time of initial diagnosis. We recorded time to first biopsy-proven recurrence or length of follow-up when no recurrence was observed. Findings. Of 58 consecutive patients, ten had tumours with normal pattern of CK20 expression. No patients developed further tumours during the follow-up (median 18 [range 13-28] months). By contrast, 30 (73%) of the 41 evaluable patients with tumours that showed abnormal CK20 expression developed further tumours; the median time to a second tumour was 6 (2-24) months. The only factor that had a significant effect on the outcome of patients in terms of recurrence was expression of CK20 (p < 0.0001). Interpretation. Normal urothelial differentiation, as evidenced by a normal pattern of CK20 expression, is retained in a proportion of non-invasive papillary urothelial tumours and thus justifies use of the term urothelial papilloma. A large-scale study is needed to investigate the outcome of patients with such tumours.