Inclusion of phenacetin among 'proven' human carcinogens by the IARC in 1987, raised concerns about the carcinogenic potential of acetaminophen, its major metabolite. Acetaminophen has been implicated as a possible causal agent in the development of cancer of the renal pelvis. The bladder and renal pelvis, which derive from the same embryological structure, share the same transitional type of epithelium. Past studies have been inconclusive on the possible relationship among these analgesics and bladder cancer but no large, highly detailed study of this association has been conducted. A population-based case-control study conducted in Los Angeles, California, involved 1514 incident bladder cancer cases and an equal number of controls who were matched to the index cases by sex, date of birth (within 5 years) and race. Detailed information on medication use and prior medical conditions was collected through in-person interviews. Regular use of analgesics was not associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer in either men or women. In fact, compared with non- or irregular users, regular analgesic users were at a decreased risk of bladder cancer overall (odds ratio (OR) = 0.81, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.68-0.96). However, there were clear differences in both the direction and strength of the associations between the different formulation classes of analgesics and bladder cancer risk. Intake of phenacetin was positively related to bladder cancer risk in a dose-dependent manner while intake of its major metabolite in humans, acetaminophen, was unrelated to risk. Intake of all classes of NSAIDs, except pyrazolon derivatives, were negatively associated with bladder cancer risk, with suggestive evidence that the protective effect varies in strength by subcategories of formulation. Acetic acids seemed to exhibit the strongest protective effect, whereas aspirin/other salicylic acids and oxicam showed the weakest protection.