Sulphation is an important detoxification pathway for numerous xenobiotics; however, it also plays an important role in the metabolism and bioactivation of many dietary and environmental mutagens, including heterocyclic amines implicated in the pathogenesis of colorectal and other cancers. A major sulphotransferase (SULT) enzyme in humans, SULT1A1, is polymorphic with the most common variant allele, SULT1A1*2, occurring at a frequency of about 32% in the Caucasian population. This allele codes for an allozyme with low enzyme activity and stability compared to the wild-type (SULT1A1*1) enzyme, and therefore SULT1A1 genotype may influence susceptibility to mutagenicity following exposure to heterocyclic amines and other environmental toxins. Previously, a significant association of SULT1A1*1 genotype with old age has been observed, suggesting a 'chemoprotective' role for the high-activity phenotype. Here we have compared the frequencies of the most common SULT1A1 alleles in 226 colorectal cancer patients and 293 previously described control patients. We also assessed whether SULT1A1 genotype was related to various clinical parameters in the patient group, including Duke's classification, differentiation, site, nodal involvement and survival. There was no significant difference in allele frequency between the control and cancer patient populations, nor was there a significant association with any of the clinical parameters studied. However, when the age-related difference in allele frequency was considered, a significantly reduced risk of colorectal cancer (odds ratio = 0.47; 95% confidence interval = 0.27-0.83; P = 0.009), was associated with homozygosity for SULT1A1*1 in subjects under the age of 80 years. These results suggest that the high activity SULT1A1*1 allozyme protects against dietary and/or environmental chemicals involved in the pathogenesis of colorectal cancer.