The objective of this cross-sectional study was to determine whether plasma selenium concentration predicts the prevalence of adenomatous polyps of the colon and rectum. The source population for the study was 101 patients undergoing sequential colonoscopies at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Tucson, AZ. The study population was then limited to the 48 patients (all male) undergoing their initial colonoscopy who did not have a diagnosis of colorectal cancer. For each of these patients, a prediagnostic fasting plasma selenium concentration was determined. The data from this study suggest that fasting plasma selenium concentrations may be an important risk factor for colorectal adenomas. Patients with fasting plasma selenium concentrations below the median (< 128 mcg/liter) were significantly more likely to have one or more adenomatous polyps (prevalence odds ratio 4.2) and more adenomatous polyps (3.5 times) per patient. There was also a suggestion of a more proximal distribution of adenomatous polyps in the patients with a lower level of selenium. These associations were not confounded by age or smoking. The results of this study are consistent with the experimental animal studies, geographic mortality studies, and prospective cohort studies of selenium and colorectal cancer.