Gliomas account for almost 80% of primary malignant brain tumors, and they result in more years of life lost than do any other tumors. Glioblastoma, the most common type of glioma, is associated with very poor survival, so glioma epidemiology has focused on identifying factors that can be modified to prevent this disease. Only two relatively rare factors have so far been conclusively shown to affect glioma risk--exposure to high doses of ionizing radiation, and inherited mutations of highly penetrant genes associated with rare syndromes. In addition, preliminary evidence points to a lower glioma risk among people with allergic conditions and high levels of serum IgE. Recent research has focused on identifying germline polymorphisms associated with risk of glioma, and using molecular markers to classify glial tumors into more-homogenous groups. Because gene products probably interact with environmental factors or developmental signals to produce gliomas, large studies are needed to analyze associations between polymorphisms and glioma. Cohort studies of immune factors and glioma risk are being undertaken to validate the results of case-control studies. Studies of polymorphisms of genetic pathways with strong prior hypotheses are being planned, and whole-genome scans are being proposed to study high-risk families and case-control series. The Brain Tumor Epidemiology Consortium has been formed to co-ordinate these studies.