Estrogen analogues, moxestrol (10(-8)-10(-5) M) and ethinyl estradiol (10(-8)-10(-6) M), produced a 30% and 15% inhibition of LoVo cell growth, respectively, in serum-free Ham's F-10 medium. Under the same conditions, no growth effects were observed on these cells following the addition of progesterone or testosterone (10(-8)-10(-6) M); however, metribolone (10(-8)-10(-6) M), a synthetic androgen with glucocorticoid receptor-binding properties, moderately stimulated cell growth (18%). The synthetic antiandrogen, RU 23908 (10(-6) M), did not reduce metribolone effects, and hydrocortisone (10(-9)-10(-7) M) stimulated LoVo cell growth by 31% in serum-free medium. In medium containing 10% charcoal-treated fetal bovine serum, the inhibitory effects of estrogens were not observed, and the lower concentrations (10(-11) M) of moxestrol and ethinyl estradiol facilitated cell growth (10 to 15%). The other steroid hormones produced the same results as observed with serum-free medium. These data suggest that estrogen and glucocorticoid hormones may play an important role in the growth of colon carcinoma cells. Androgen and progesterone hormones appear to be less significant in this regard. Serum factors alter the effects of estrogen, but not of glucocorticoids.