A protective effect of calcium against colorectal cancer has been described in Anglo-Saxon but not in Latin communities, and no such effect has been observed regarding adenomas. We investigated the relationship between calcium, dairy products and the adenoma-carcinoma sequence in a French region by comparing small adenoma ( < 10 mm, n = 154), large adenoma (n = 208) and polyp-free (n = 426) subjects, and cancer cases (n = 171) with population controls (n = 309). There was no protective effect of calcium against colorectal tumours except for low fat calcium and large adenomas in men (OR for highest quintile = 0.3, P for trend = 0.06). There was even a trend towards an increased risk of cancer with dairy calcium in men and non-dairy calcium in women. Vitamin D was inversely related to the risk of small adenomas in women (OR for highest quintile = 0.4, P for trend = 0.04). Regarding dairy products, only consumption of yoghurt displayed an inverse relationship with risk of large adenomas, in both men and women. These data failed to demonstrate a protective effect of calcium against colorectal carcinogenesis. They suggest that the type of dairy product might be the important factor with regard to prevention of colorectal tumours.