AIM: The role of oestrogen metabolism and action in colorectal cancer (CRC) is controversial. An extensive review of the current literature, encompassing epidemiological evidence, systemic and peripheral oestrogen concentrations, 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (17β-HSD) and aromatase in CRC, steroid sulphatase (STS)/oestrone sulphotransferase (EST) and in vitro and in vivo genomic effects was therefore undertaken. METHODS: A literature search (key words: colorectal cancer, oestrogen, oestrogen receptor, 17β-HSD, STS, organic anion transporter) was performed using Embase, Medline, and Pubmed and papers were evaluated on scientific relevance on an individual basis. RESULTS: Epidemiological data highlights that premenopausal women, or postmenopausal women taking hormone replacement therapy, are significantly less likely than males to develop CRC. This implies that oestrogen signalling is most likely involved in CRC physiology and aetiology. Little is known about oestrogen metabolism in the colon. However, the expression of 17β-HSD, STS, and EST, enzymes involved in oestrogen metabolism, have shown prognostic significance. Evidence also suggests that protective effects are modulated through oestrogen receptor beta, although which metabolite of oestrogen, oestradiol (E(2)) or oestrone (E(1)), is more active remains undefined. To complicate matters, the changes in the peripheral ratios of these enzymes, oestrogens and receptors most likely influences CRC progression. CONCLUSION: Epidemiological evidence, now supported by in vitro and in vivo studies, strongly associates oestrogen action and metabolism with CRC. Initially protective against CRC, once developed, results suggests that oestrogens increase proliferation. Consequently, hormone-ablation therapy, already successful against breast and prostate cancer, may be effective against CRC.