A case-control study was conducted between 1992 and 1996 in six Italian areas. It included 537 women with colon cancer, 291 women with rectal cancer and 2081 control women in hospital for acute conditions, unrelated to hormonal or gynaecological diseases. A higher age at menopause was associated with increased colon cancer risk (odds ratio (OR) for > or = 53 years compared with < 50 years = 1.39, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.04-1.87). Among parous women, a significant trend of decreasing colon cancer risk with increasing number of births was seen for colon (OR for > or = 4 births compared with 1 birth = 0.62, 95% CI 0.42-0.90), but not for rectal cancer. Nulliparous women, however, were at lower risk than women with a single birth, and age at first birth was directly associated with risk. While oral contraceptive use showed no significant influence, ever users of hormone replacement therapy had a reduced risk of rectal cancer (OR = 0.56, 95% CI 0.31-1.01). Thus, the association of colorectal cancer with reproductive and menstrual factors is neither strong nor consistent.