Epidemiological studies have established associations between various reproductive factors and risk of ovarian cancer; it has also been observed that some of these risk factors are only associated with specific histological subgroups. To investigate the correlation of genetic alterations with these risk factors, we examined a consecutive series of 158 ovarian cancer cases treated at the University of Kentucky (1990-96). Common molecular genetic alterations (LOH on chromosome 17, P53 alterations, K-RAS mutations), histological and clinical characteristics of the disease, demographic patient information and survival were evaluated. These latter data were from the Kentucky Cancer Registry. Univariate analysis showed higher frequencies of chromosome 17 loss and P53 mutations in tumors of advanced stage and grade, and in older and post-menopausal women. Non-mucinous tumors were more likely to be classified as late stage, high-grade cancers, and to have chromosome 17 loss and P53 mutations. Survival analysis indicated that stage was the only independent significant variable. When stage was the outcome variable in multiple logistic regression analysis, histology and chromosome 17 loss were significantly associated with poor survival. This case-case study provides evidence that ovarian cancers of mucinous and non-mucinous histology are significantly different with respect to clinical characteristics, survival and molecular alterations. It also lends support to the hypothesis that ovarian cancer is a heterogeneous disease with distinct etiological factors and clinical outcomes, which may require different approaches to treatment.