The effects of isocaloric carbohydrate-based vs. fat-based total parenteral nutrition (TPN) regimens on cancer cell proliferation and host nutritional status were evaluated in 27 patients with tumours of the gastro intestinal tract consecutively assigned to receive for 14 days: a glucose-based (A) or a lipid-based (B) TPN formula, or an oral diet (C) isocaloric and isonitrogenous to A and B. Cancer cell replication rate was evaluated by thymidine labelling index (LI) on tumour samples before and at the end of each nutritional regimen. The number of replicating cells increased by 32.2% in patients receiving regimen A. LI decreased by 24.3% in patients given regimen B. LI values were slightly increased (+15%) in patients maintained on regimen C. Nutritional status remained within normal limits. None of the LI changes observed between and within the three arms of the trial were found to be statistically significant. Thus we failed to prove that glucose consistently stimulates or lipids inhibit tumour proliferation despite a trend in this sense.