Between 1996 and 1999, we carried out a study in Southern India on risk factors for oral cancer. The study included 591 incident cases of cancer of the oral cavity (282 women) and 582 hospital controls (290 women). Height was unrelated to oral cancer risk. Body mass index (weight in kilograms/height in metres squared) was inversely associated with risk (P for trend<0.001). Paan chewers with low BMI were at particularly high risk. Risk was increased among subjects consuming meat (odds ratio (OR) 1.54, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.00-2.37), ham and salami (OR 4.40, 95% CI 2.88-6.71) two or more times per week. Frequent consumption of fish, eggs, raw green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, carrots, pulses, apples or pears, citrus fruit, and overall consumption of vegetables and fruit decreased oral cancer risk (P for trend for each of these items less than or equal to 0.001). The risk associated with low consumption of vegetables was higher among smokers than among non-smokers. Men, but not women, who practised oral sex had an increased oral cancer risk (OR 3.14, 95% CI 1.15-8.63). Women with more than one sexual partner during life were at increased oral cancer risk (OR 9.93, 95% CI 1.57-62.9).