The relationship between oral contraceptives (OCs), menopausal hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and the risk of colorectal cancer was investigated in a case-control study conducted in northern Italy between 1985 and 1992 on 709 women with incident colorectal cancer and 992 controls admitted to hospital for a wide spectrum of acute, non-neoplastic, non-digestive tract, non-hormone-related disorders. A reduced risk of colorectal cancer was observed in women who had ever used OCs [multivariate odds ratio (OR) = 0.58; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.36-0.92]. The OR was 0.52 (95% CI 0.27-1.02) for use over 2 years. For women ever using HRT, the multivariate OR was 0.40 (95% CI 0.25-0.66). The risk was inversely related to duration of use, with ORs of 0.46 for 2 years or less and 0.25 for more than 2 years of use. No consistent pattern of trends was observed with time since first or last use. This study provides further evidence that OC and HRT do not increase, and possibly decrease, the risk of colorectal cancer. These results, if confirmed, would have important implications for the ultimate risk-benefit assessment of female hormone preparations.