The Women's Health Trial Vanguard Study was conducted to examine the feasibility of a nationwide, randomized multicenter intervention trial to test the hypothesis that a low-fat diet followed for a period of 10 years will reduce breast cancer risk. Women ages 45-69 years at increased risk of breast cancer were randomized into intervention (low-fat diet, n = 184) and control (usual diet, n = 119) groups. On the basis of 4-day food records, baseline fat intakes were comparable in the two groups, averaging 1,718 kcal with 39% of energy as fat. Intervention women reported substantially lower fat intake at 6 (20.9% kcal), 12 (21.6%), and 24 months (22.6% kcal). In contrast, control women reported only slight reductions in fat intake (37.3% kcal at 12 months and 36.8% kcal at 24 months). Evidence that these women were indeed complying with the low-fat dietary intervention comes from (a) the reasonable nature of reported nutrient changes within food groups in the intervention women and (b) agreement between observed and expected differences in plasma total cholesterol between the control and the intervention groups. At 12 months, the observed control - intervention plasma cholesterol difference was 13.1 +/- 4.6 mg/dl while the expected difference based on the Keys equation was 15.1 +/- 1.1 mg/dl; at 24 months, the observed difference was 15.5 +/- 4.3 mg/dl and the expected difference was 12.0 +/- 1.2 mg/dl. These analyses indicate that the intervention women made substantial dietary changes and have successfully maintained these changes over a 2-year period. This study thus demonstrates the feasibilityof a randomized trial with an intensive low-fat dietary intervention.