The aim of this study was to evaluate the colonic mucosal beta-carotene (BC) concentration following supplementation with BC and to determine if an increase in BC concentration influences vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) status. The concentration of BC and alpha-tocopherol was assessed in serum and colonic tissue obtained from subjects with a history of colonic polyps or resected cancer (Dukes A, B1, or B2). Serum and mucosal biopsy samples were obtained prior to and following 3 months daily p.o. supplementation with 30 mg of BC or placebo. The concentration of BC was significantly increased in serum and colonic mucosa from both polyp and cancer subjects following supplementation as compared to presupplementation values and values from subjects receiving a placebo. The concentration of alpha-tocopherol in serum from cancer subjects was significantly decreased in samples obtained at the end of 3 months of BC supplementation as compared to placebo-matched controls. In BC-supplemented polyp subjects the tissue concentration of alpha-tocopherol was also significantly decreased relative to presupplementation values. The results indicate that BC supplementation does result in a significant accumulation of BC in the colonic mucosa but that the alpha-tocopherol concentration in both serum and colonic tissue may be compromised by an increased intake of BC. The mechanism for the decrease in alpha-tocopherol in conjunction with the increase in BC will require further study in order to develop strategies which will prevent vitamin E deficiency in BC-supplemented individuals.