Epidemiologic studies have suggested an increased risk for ovarian cancer associated with the use of talcum powder in genital hygiene, but the biologic credibility of the association has been questioned. We conducted a population-based case-control study in eastern Massachusetts and New Hampshire involving 563 women with newly diagnosed epithelial ovarian cancer and 523 control women selected either by random digit dialing or through lists of residents. Use of body powders was assessed through personal interview and the exposure odds ratio (OR) for the use of talc in genital hygiene was calculated. Cases were more likely than controls (45% vs. 36%) to have used talc as a body powder in some manner, and the excess was confined to patients who used talc on the perineum directly or as a dusting powder to underwear or sanitary napkins. Relative to women who never used body powder or used it only in non-genital areas, the OR (and 95% confidence interval) associated with genital exposure to talc was 1.60 (1.18 and 2. 15) after adjustment for age, study location, parity, oral contraceptive use, body mass index and family history of breast or ovarian cancer. Exposure prior to rather than after a first livebirth appeared to be more harmful, and the association was most apparent for women with invasive serous cancers and least apparent for those with mucinous tumors. We conclude that there is a significant association between the use of talc in genital hygiene and risk of epithelial ovarian cancer that, when viewed in perspective of published data on this association, warrants more formal public health warnings.