With the use of age-adjusted incidence rates and proportional incidence ratios, investigators studied the risk of cancer of the stomach and 3 subdivisions of the large bowel in three race-ethnic groups--Spanish surnamed whites, other whites, and Japanese--and compared Los Angeles County native residents, immigrants, and representative "homeland" populations. The risk pattern for each of the four anatomic sites was quite distinctive, suggesting at least four different etiologic complexes. For each site the observed gradients of risk are nearly identical for each sex, usually with risk for immigrants intermediary between that for homeland residents and that for local natives; the differences between race-ethnic groups are consistent with known international patterns. Particularly notable is the contrast between the low risks of cancer of both the sigmoid and the rectum in Japan and the high risks for Japanese immigrants to Los Angeles, which are nearly double those of their U.S. white neighbors. In all instances, and especially for both the upper and lower colon, the influence of the adult environment predominates over that of the early environment. The environmental determinants of stomach cancer do not always appear in inverse correlation with those of colon cancer, since Japanese immigrants to Los Angeles and their descendants are at high absolute and relative risk of both neoplasms. Our findings suggest that patterns of risk in relation to migration are complex and defy simple dietary or other interpretation. Without more information about the impact of migration to the United States on qualitative and quantitative aspects of lifestyle, it is not possible to put forward simple hypotheses that explain all available facts.