Studies indicate that higher sun exposure, especially in the recent past, is associated with reduced risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Ultraviolet radiation-derived vitamin D may be protective against lymphomagenesis. We examined the relationship between prediagnostic serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) and lymphoid cancer risk in a case–control study nested within the Alpha-Tocopherol Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study cohort (1985–2002) of 29,133 Finnish male smokers (ages 50–69). We identified 270 incident lymphoid cancer cases and matched them individually with 538 controls by birth-year and month of fasting blood draw at baseline. In conditional logistic regression models for 10 nmol/L increments or tertile comparisons, serum 25(OH)D was not associated with the risk of overall lymphoid cancers, NHL (n = 208) or multiple myeloma (n = 41). Odds ratios (OR) for NHL for higher tertiles were 0.75 (95% confidence interval (CI), 0.50, 1.14) and 0.82 (95% CI, 0.53, 1.26). The 25(OH)D-NHL association, however, differed by follow-up duration at diagnosis. Cases diagnosed less than 7 years from the baseline showed an inverse association (OR for highest vs. lowest tertile = 0.43; 95% CI: 0.23, 0.83; p for trend = 0.01), but not later diagnoses (OR = 1.52; 95% CI: 0.82, 2.80; p for trend = 0.17). The inverse association found for close exposure to diagnosis was not confounded by other risk factors for lymphoma or correlates of 25(OH)D. Although our findings suggest that circulating 25(OH)D is not likely associated with overall lymphoid cancer, they indicate a potentially protective effect on short-term risk of NHL. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.