The relationship between lifestyle factors, past medical conditions, daily meal frequency, diet and the risk of 'familial' colorectal cancer has been analysed using data from a case-control study conducted in northern Italy. A total of 1584 colorectal cancer patients and 2879 control subjects were admitted to a network of hospitals in the Greater Milan area and the Pordenone province. The subjects included for analysis were the 112 cases and the 108 control subjects who reported a family history of colorectal cancer in first-degree relatives. Colorectal cancer cases and control subjects with family history were similarly distributed according to sex, age, marital status, years of schooling and social class. Familial colorectal cancer was associated with meal frequency, medical history of diabetes (relative risk, RR = 4.6) and cholelithiasis (RR = 5.2). Significant positive trends of increasing risk with more frequent consumption were observed for pasta (RR = 2.5, for the highest vs the lowest intake tertile), pastries (RR = 2.4), red meat (RR = 2.9), canned meat (RR = 1.9), cheese (RR = 3.5) and butter (RR = 1.9). Significant inverse associations and trends in risk were observed for consumption of poultry (RR = 0.4), tomatoes (RR = 0.2), peppers (RR = 0.3) and lettuce (RR = 0.3). Significant inverse trends in risk with increasing consumption for beta-carotene and ascorbic acid were observed (RR = 0.5 and 0.4 respectively, highest vs lowest intake tertile). These results suggest that risk factors for subjects with a family history of colorectal cancer in first-degree relatives are not appreciably different from recognized risk factors of the disease in the general population.