Although intra-luminal epidermal growth factor (EGF) may stimulate cell proliferation in the upper gastrointestinal tract, its role in the large bowel has not been established. We have therefore studied the effect of intra-rectal EGF administration on both normal growth and carcinogenesis in the rat colon. Colonic cancer was induced in rats with azoxymethane (10 mg kg-1 week-1 for 12 weeks s.c.) and controls dosed with saline. In each group, animals were randomised to receive EGF (12 nM, 0.8 nM or saline control) in 0.5 ml saline via a rectal tube daily for 24 weeks. At this time, crypt cell production rates (CCPRs) were determined at two sites in the colon: one of maximal and another of minimal exposure to EGF (5 cm and 10 cm from the anal margin respectively). No effects of EGF were seen at 10 cm. The lower dose of EGF gave CCPRs that mirrored the control values. The higher dose of EGF in the animals not treated with azoxymethane stimulated mucosal growth. Azoxymethane increased in CCPR, but this was suppressed by the high dose of EGF. These results suggest that (1) luminal EGF and azoxymethane independently increase the colonic CCPR and their combined effect is not synergistic but antagonistic; (2) EGF may have a role in normal epithelial growth, but does not potentiate colonic carcinogenesis in this model.