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The relation between plasma cholesterol concentration and mortality from coronary heart disease, incidence of and mortality from cancer, and all cause mortality was studied in a general population aged 45-64 living in the west of Scotland. Seven thousand men (yielding 653 deaths from coronary heart disease, 630 new cases of cancer, and 463 deaths from cancer) and 8262 women (322 deaths from coronary heart disease, 554 new cases of cancer, and 395 deaths from cancer) were examined initially in 1972-6 and followed up for an average of 12 years. All cause mortality was not related to plasma cholesterol concentration. This was largely a consequence of a positive relation between cholesterol values and mortality from coronary heart disease being balanced by inverse relations between cholesterol and cancer and between cholesterol and other causes of death. These changes were highly significant for coronary heart disease and cancer in men and significant for coronary heart disease and other causes of death in women. The inverse association between cholesterol concentration and cancer in men was strongest for lung cancer, was not merely a function of the age at which a subject died, was present for the incidence of cancer as well as mortality from cancer, and persisted when new cases or deaths occurring within the first four years of follow up were excluded from the analysis.