Circulating n-3 PUFA, which integrate endogenous and exogenous n-3 PUFA, can be better used to investigate the relationship between n-3 PUFA and disease. However, studies examining the associations between circulating n-3 PUFA and colorectal cancer (CRC) risk were limited, and the results remained inconclusive. This case–control study aimed to examine the association between serum n-3 PUFA and CRC risk in Chinese population. A total of 680 CRC cases and 680 sex- and age-matched (5-year interval) controls were included. Fatty acids were assayed by GC. OR and 95 % CI were calculated using multivariable logistic regression after adjustment for potential confounders. Higher level of serum α-linolenic acid (ALA), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), DHA, long-chain n-3 PUFA and total n-3 PUFA were associated with lower odds of CRC. The adjusted OR and 95 % CI were 0·34 (0·24, 0·49, P
for trend < 0·001) for ALA, 0·57 (0·40, 0·80, P
for trend < 0·001) for DPA, 0·48 (0·34, 0·68, P
for trend < 0·001) for DHA, 0·39 (0·27, 0·56, P
for trend < 0·001) for long-chain n-3 PUFA and 0·31 (0·22, 0·45, P
for trend < 0·001) for total n-3 PUFA comparing the highest with the lowest quartile. However, there was no statistically significant association between EPA and odds of CRC. Analysis stratified by sex showed that ALA, DHA, long-chain n-3 PUFA and total n-3 PUFA were inversely associated with odds of CRC in both sexes. This study indicated that serum ALA, DPA, DHA, long-chain n-3 PUFA and total n-3 PUFA were inversely associated with odds of having CRC in Chinese population.