Alterations in folate status may play an important role in carcinogenesis. The aim of this study was to examine the effect of a diminished folate status on azoxymethane (AOM)-induced intestinal tumours in Sprague-Dawley rats. A total of 125 weanling male rats were divided into five equal groups and fed semi-purified diets containing either 8 mg/kg folate or no folate. After 4 weeks on experimental diets, all animals received three weekly subcutaneous injections of AOM at a dose rate of 15 mg/kg bodyweight. The animals were necropsied after 26 weeks. Rats with a diminished folate status, evident by significantly reduced blood and colonic folate concentrations and elevated plasma homocysteine levels, had significantly (P < 0.01) lower incidence and number of small intestinal and colonic tumours compared with rats displaying an adequate folate status. There was a significant decrease in the incidence of colonic adenocarcinomas (P < 0.01) and size of colonic tumours observed in the rats displaying a diminished folate status. This study shows that a diminished folate status was associated with a decrease in the development of AOM-induced colorectal cancers. The decrease in risk may be attributed to the known role of folate in cell multiplication.