Cell-free extracts were prepared from mixed fecal anaerobic bacteria grown from stools of 14 vegetarian Seventh-Day Adventists, 16 omnivorous control subjects, and eight patients recently diagnosed with cancer of the large bowel. Preparations were assayed for NAD- and NADP-dependent 3alpha-, 7alpha- and 12alpha-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenases with bile salts and androsterone as substrates (eight substrate-cofactor combinations were tested). A significant intergroup difference was observed in the amounts of NAD- and NADP-dependent 7alpha-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase produced: bowel cancer patients exceeded controls, and controls exceeded Seventh-Day Adventists. Other enzyme activity comparisons were not significant. The pH values of the stools were significantly higher in cancer patients compared to Seventh-Day Adventists; values were 7.03 +/- 0.60 and 6.46 +/- 0.58 respectively. The pH value for controls was 6.66 +/- 0.62. A plot of pH value versus NADP-dependent 7alpha-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase tended to separate the cancer patients from the other groups. Comparative data suggest that much of the 3alpha-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase active against bile salt is also active against androsterone.