The relationship between bowel movement (BM) frequency and the risk of colorectal cancer was examined in a large cohort of 25 731 men and 37 198 women living in 24 communities in Japan. At enrolment, each participant completed a self-administrated questionnaire on BM frequency and laxative use. Incidence rate ratios (IRR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) were estimated using Cox's proportional-hazard model. During the follow-up period (average length 7.6 years), 649 cases of colorectal cancer, including 429 cases of colon cancer, were identified. Among women, subjects who reported a BM every 2-3 days had the lowest risk of developing colorectal (IRR=0.71, 95% CI=0.52-0.97) and colon cancer (IRR=0.70, 95% CI=0.49-1.00), whereas those reporting a BM every 6 days or less had an increased risk of developing colorectal (IRR=2.47, 95% CI=1.01-6.01) and colon cancer (IRR=2.52, 95% CI=0.93-6.82) compared with those reporting >or=1 BM per day. A similar, but nonsignificant, association between the frequency of BM and cancer risk was observed in men. There was no association between colorectal or colon cancer risk and laxative use. Regulating BM frequency might therefore have a role in the prevention of colorectal cancer.