The present review comes from the authors of the recent Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) review Update on Trans Fatty Acids and Health, and focuses on assessing the strength of the evidence for a link between trans-fatty acid (trans-FA) intake and cancer. It evaluates a range of human ecological, case–control and prospective studies with trans-FA exposure assessed using either dietary assessment methods or trans-FA levels in tissues. Relevant animal studies are also presented in order to elucidate potential mechanisms. It concludes that there is weak and inconsistent evidence for a relationship between trans-FA and breast or colorectal cancer. Evidence for an association between trans-FA and prostate cancer is limited, but a recent large case–control study has shown a strong interaction between risk and trans-FA intake for the RNASEL QQ/RQ genotype that is present in about 35 % of the population. This potential association requires further investigation. The single study on non-Hodgkin's lymphoma reported a strong positive association, but only used a single assessment of dietary trans-FA made at the start of the study in 1980, and the significant changes in trans-FA intakes between then and the end of follow-up in 1994 limit the reliability of this observation. There is insufficient evidence to allow any differentiation between the effects of trans-FA from animal or vegetable origin on cancer risk.