The relationship between frequency of consumption of whole-grain foods and cancer risk has been analysed using data from an updated series of case-control studies conducted in Northern Italy between 1983 and 1997. The overall dataset included the following incident histologically-confirmed neoplasms: oral cavity and pharynx 524, oesophagus 410, stomach 745, colon 955, rectum 625, liver 435, gallbladder 65, pancreas 402, larynx 388, soft tissue sarcomas 217, breast 3412, endometrium 750, ovary 971, prostate 127, bladder 431, kidney 190, thyroid 428, Hodgkin's disease 201, non-Hodgkin's lymphomas 529, multiple myelomas 185. Controls were 10 058 patients admitted to hospital for acute non-neoplastic conditions unrelated to long-term modifications in diet, tobacco or alcohol use. The multivariate odds ratios for the highest category of whole-grain cereal consumption were 0.3–0.5 for upper digestive tract and respiratory neoplasms and colon, 0.6 for rectum and liver, 0.4 for gallbladder, 0.8 for pancreas, 0.2 for soft tissue sarcomas, 0.9 for breast and endometrium, 0.7 for ovary, 0.7 for prostate, 0.4 for bladder and kidney, 1.1 for thyroid and about 0.5 for lymphomas and 0.6 for myelomas. In this population whole-grain food consumption is an indicator of reduced risk of several neoplasms.