Malignant brain tumors are the leading cause of cancer death among children and the second most common type of pediatric cancer. Despite several decades of epidemiologic investigation, the etiology of childhood brain tumors (CBT) is still largely unknown. A few genetic syndromes and ionizing radiation are established risk factors. Many environmental exposures and infectious agents have been suspected of playing a role in the development of CBT. This review, based on a search of the medical literature through August 2003, summarizes the epidemiologic evidence to date. The types of exposures discussed include ionizing radiation, N-nitroso compounds (NOC), pesticides, tobacco smoke, electromagnetic frequencies (EMF), infectious agents, medications, and parental occupational exposures. We have chosen to focus on perinatal exposures and review some of the recent evidence indicating that such exposures may play a significant role in the causation of CBT. The scientific community is rapidly learning more about the molecular mechanisms by which carcinogenesis occurs and how the brain develops. We believe that advances in genetic and molecular biologic technology, including improved histologic subtyping of tumors, will be of huge importance in the future of epidemiologic research and will lead to a more comprehensive understanding of CBT etiology. We discuss some of the early findings using these technologies.