Studies of the etiology of colon cancer indicate that it is strongly associated with diet and lifestyle factors. The authors use data from a population-based study conducted in northern California, Utah, and Minnesota in 1991-1995 to determine lifestyle patterns and their association with colon cancer. Data obtained from 1,993 cases and 2,410 controls were grouped by using factor analyses to describe various aspects of lifestyle patterns. The first five lifestyle patterns for both men and women loaded heavily on dietary variables and were labeled: "Western," "moderation," "calcium/low-fat dairy;" "meat and mutagens," and "nibblers, smoking, and coffee." Other important lifestyle patterns that emerged were labeled "body size," "medication and supplementation," "alcohol," and "physical activity." Among both men and women, the lifestyle characterized by high levels of physical activity was the most marked lifestyle associated with colon cancer (odds ratios = 0.42, 95% confidence interval: 0.32, 0.55 and odds ratio = 0.52, 95% confidence interval: 0.39, 0.69, for men and women, respectively) followed by medication and supplementation (odds ratio = 1.68, 95% confidence interval: 1.29, 2.18 and odds ratio = 1.63, 95% CI 1.23, 2.16, respectively). Other lifestyles that were associated with colon cancer were the Western lifestyle, the lifestyle characterized by large body size, and the one characterized by calcium and low-fat dairy. Different lifestyle patterns appear to have age- and tumor site-specific associations.