Studies suggest that cell proliferation abnormalities of the colorectal mucosa are associated with risk of neoplasia, and most cancers of the large bowel are thought to arise from adenomas. The results of other studies suggest that vitamins A, C, and E have chemopreventive efficacy against colon cancer in animal models. This study evaluates the effect of dietary vitamin supplementation on cell kinetics in uninvolved rectal mucosa in patients with colorectal adenomas. Twenty patients with colorectal adenomas were given vitamins A, C, and E for 6 months after complete polypectomy, and 21 patients with adenomas received placebo. In each patient, six biopsy specimens were taken from normal-appearing rectal mucosa before treatment and after 3 and 6 months of treatment and were incubated with tritiated thymidine ([3H]thymidine), and the [3H]thymidine-labeled cells were counted by use of autoradiography. Two parameters of cell proliferation were evaluated: 1) the ratio of the number of labeled cells to the total number of cells (thymidine labeling index) and 2) the ratio of the number of labeled cells in the upper 40% of the crypt to the total number of labeled cells in the crypt (phi h). The latter index reflects abnormal expansion of the proliferative compartment and is thought to be an intermediate biomarker of cancer risk. In patients receiving vitamins, phi h decreased progressively from baseline values, with increasing statistical significance (P less than .05 after 3 months, P less than .01 after 6 months). There was a statistically significant decrease in the thymidine labeling index in the 40% of the crypt near the mucosal surface, but the variation in the overall labeling index was not statistically significant. In the placebo group, we observed no statistically significant change in cell kinetics. These findings suggest that vitamin A, C, and E supplementation is effective in reducing abnormalities in cell kinetics that may indicate a precancerous condition. Before larger trials on chemoprevention of colorectal adenoma recurrence are conducted, additional studies are needed (a) to validate that cell kinetics is an intermediate biomarker, (b) to determine active agents, optimal dosage, and the relative efficacy of agents given alone and in combination, and (c) to test toxicity.