Small cell carcinoma of the lung (SCLC) occurs most frequently in heavy smokers, yet exhibits a lesser predominance among men than other smoking-associated lung cancers. Incidence rates have increased more rapidly in women than men and at a faster rate among women than other cell types. To investigate the importance of smoking and other risk factors, a case-control study of SCLC in women was conducted. A total of 98 women with primary SCLC and 204 healthy controls, identified by random-digit dialing and frequency matched for age, completed telephone interviews. Data collected include demographics, medical history, family cancer history, residence history, and lifetime smoking habits. Odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) were calculated using logistic regression analysis. Risk for small cell carcinoma in women is strongly associated with current use of cigarettes. Ninety-seven of 98 cases had smoked cigarettes; 79% of cases were current smokers and 20% were former smokers at the time of diagnosis compared to 13% current and 34% former smokers among controls. The ORs associated with smoking are 108.7 (95% CI 14.8-801) for ever-use of cigarettes, 278.9 (95% CI 37.0-2102) for current smoking, and 31.5 (95% CI 4. 1-241) for former smoking. Risk increases steeply with pack-years of smoking and decreases with duration of smoking cessation. After adjusting for age, education, and lifetime smoking history, medical history of physician-diagnosed respiratory disease including chronic bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia, tuberculosis, asthma, and hay fever is not associated with a significant increase in lung cancer risk. Employment in blue collar, service, or other high risk occupations is associated with a two to three-fold non-significant increase in risk for small cell carcinoma after adjusting for smoking.