The association between dietary intake of various micronutrients and colorectal cancer risk was analysed using data from a case-control study conducted between 1992 and 1997 in the Swiss Canton of Vaud. Cases were 223 subjects (142 (64%) males, 81 (36%) females; median age 63 years) with incident, histologically confirmed colon (n=119; 53%) or rectal (n=104; 47%) cancer, and controls were 491 subjects (211 (43%) males, 280 (57%) females; median age 58 years; range 27-74) admitted to the same university hospital for a wide spectrum of acute non-neoplastic conditions, unrelated to long-term modifications of diet. Dietary habits were investigated using a validated food frequency questionnaire (FFQ). Odds ratios (OR) were obtained after allowance for age, sex, education, smoking, alcohol, body mass index, physical activity, and total energy and fibre intake. No significant association was observed for calcium, retinol, folate, vitamin D or E. The risk of colorectal cancer was directly associated with measures of iron intake (OR=2.43 for the highest tertile, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.2-5.1) and inversely associated with vitamin C (OR=0.45; 95% CI: 0.3-0.8), and non-significantly with total carotenoids (OR=0.66, 95% CI: 0.4-1.1). Among various individual carotenoids considered, inverse associations were observed for alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and lutein/zeaxanthin. These findings were consistent across the strata of gender and age, and support the hypothesis that selected micronutrients have a favourable effect on colorectal carcinogenesis.