OBJECTIVE--To explore associations between exposure to cement dust and cause specific mortality and tumour morbidity, especially gastrointestinal tumours. DESIGN--A retrospective cohort study. SUBJECTS AND SETTING--2400 men, employed for at least 12 months in two Swedish cement factories. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Cause specific morality from death certificates (1952-86). Cancer morbidity from tumour registry information (1958-86). Standardised mortality rates (SMRs; national reference rates) and standardised morbidity incidence rates (SIRs; regional reference rates) were calculated. RESULTS--An increased risk of colorectal cancer was found > or = 15 years since the start of employment (SIR 1.6, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.1-2.3), mainly due to an increased risk for tumours in the right part of the colon (SIR 2.7, 95% CI 1.4-4.8), but not in the left part (SIR 1.0, 95% CI 0.3-2.5). There was a numerical increase of rectal cancer (SIR 1.5, 95% CI 0.8-2.5). Exposure (duration of blue collar employment)-response relations were found for right sided colon cancer. After > or = 25 years of cement work, the risk was fourfold (SIR 4.3, 95% CI 1.7-8.9). There was no excess of stomach cancer or respiratory cancer. Neither total mortality nor cause specific mortality were significantly increased. CONCLUSIONS--Diverging risk patterns for tumours with different localisations within the large bowel were found in the morbidity study. Long term exposure to cement dust was a risk factor for right sided colon cancer. The mortality study did not show this risk.