There are many biological mechanisms whereby dietary fat and specific dietary fatty acids may alter risk of colon cancer in addition to their contribution to total energy intake. To evaluate these potential associations, we used detailed dietary intake data collected in a population-based study of 1,993 incident colon cancer cases and 2,410 controls conducted in 3 areas of the United States. The most commonly consumed fatty acid in the study population was oleic acid. One-third of dietary fats consumed came from additions to other foods at the table or from the preparation of other foods. After adjusting for total energy intake, physical activity and body size, neither total dietary fat nor specific fatty acids was associated with risk of colon cancer. However, among older women, fats from food preparation were associated with increased risk of colon cancer (OR 1.84, 95% CI 1.20-2.80), while fats from foods themselves or from additions to other foods were not. While dietary fats were not associated with colon cancer risk in the total population, subgroups of the population appeared to be at slightly greater risk if they consumed a high-fat diet. Women who consumed a diet high in mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MFAs) and poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PFAs) and who had a family history of colorectal cancer were at greater risk of colon cancer than those with similar intakes but without a family history of colorectal cancer. Similar associations with family history were noted among men diagnosed at younger ages for MFA, linolenic acid and 20-carbon PFA.