To investigate the subsite-specific risk factors for colorectal cancer, we conducted a case-control study, using a common questionnaire which inquired about general lifestyles over the past five years (1988-92), at the Aichi Cancer Center Hospital, Nagoya, Japan. This study compared 432 patients with histopathologically diagnosed colorectal cancer (94 proximal colon [cecum, ascending colon, transverse colon]; 137 distal colon [descending colon, sigmoid colon]; 201 rectum [rectosigmoid, rectum]); and 31,782 first-visit outpatient controls who were free from cancer. In both genders, habitual smoking selectively increased the risk for rectum cancer. Soft or loose feces increased the risk for all subsites of colorectal cancer, particularly in female rectum cancer (odds ratio [OR] = 4.5). Among female dietary habits, Japanese-style foods decreased the risk for distal colon cancer, but increased the risk for proximal colon cancer. These results suggested that the risk factors for colorectal cancer differ by subsite among such a low-risk population as the Japanese. It is suggested also that 'irritable bowel' (soft or loose feces) might be associated with distal subsites of colorectal cancer, independently or combined with habitual smoking.