BACKGROUND: Studies in animals have suggested that calcium may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. However, results from epidemiologic studies of intake of calcium or dairy foods and colorectal cancer risk have been inconclusive. METHODS: We pooled the primary data from 10 cohort studies in five countries that assessed usual dietary intake by using a validated food frequency questionnaire at baseline. For most studies, follow-up was extended beyond that in the original publication. The studies included 534 536 individuals, among whom 4992 incident cases of colorectal cancer were diagnosed between 6 and 16 years of follow-up. Pooled multivariable relative risks for categories of milk intake and quintiles of calcium intake and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated. All statistical tests were two-sided. RESULTS: Milk intake was related to a reduced risk of colorectal cancer. Compared with the lowest category of intake (<70 g/day), relative risks of colorectal cancer for increasing categories (70-174, 175-249, and > or =250 g/day) of milk intake were 0.94 (95% CI = 0.86 to 1.02), 0.88 (95% CI = 0.81 to 0.96), and 0.85 (95% CI = 0.78 to 0.94), respectively (P(trend)<.001). Calcium intake was also inversely related to the risk of colorectal cancer. The relative risk for the highest versus the lowest quintile of intake was 0.86 (95% CI = 0.78 to 0.95; P(trend) =.02) for dietary calcium and 0.78 (95% CI = 0.69 to 0.88; P(trend)<.001) for total calcium (combining dietary and supplemental sources). These results were consistent across studies and sex. The inverse association for milk was limited to cancers of the distal colon (P(trend)<.001) and rectum (P(trend) =.02). CONCLUSION: Higher consumption of milk and calcium is associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer.