The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) is an ongoing multi-centre prospective cohort study designed to investigate the relationship between nutrition and cancer, with the potential for studying other diseases as well. The study currently includes 519 978 participants (366 521 women and 153 457 men, mostly aged 35–70 years) in 23 centres located in 10 European countries, to be followed for cancer incidence and cause-specific mortality for several decades. At enrolment, which took place between 1992 and 2000 at each of the different centres, information was collected through a non-dietary questionnaire on lifestyle variables and through a dietary questionnaire addressing usual diet. Anthropometric measurements were performed and blood samples taken, from which plasma, serum, red cells and buffy coat fractions were separated and aliquoted for long-term storage, mostly in liquid nitrogen. To calibrate dietary measurements, a standardised, computer-assisted 24-hour dietary recall was implemented at each centre on stratified random samples of the participants, for a total of 36 900 subjects. EPIC represents the largest single resource available today world-wide for prospective investigations on the aetiology of cancers (and other diseases) that can integrate questionnaire data on lifestyle and diet, biomarkers of diet and of endogenous metabolism (e.g. hormones and growth factors) and genetic polymorphisms. First results of case–control studies nested within the cohort are expected early in 2003. The present paper provides a description of the EPIC study, with the aim of simplifying reference to it in future papers reporting substantive or methodological studies carried out in the EPIC cohort.