BACKGROUND An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy which occurs outside of the uterine cavity, and over 98% implant in the Fallopian tube. Tubal ectopic pregnancy remains the most common cause of maternal mortality in the first trimester of pregnancy. The epidemiological risk factors for tubal ectopic pregnancy are well established and include: tubal damage as a result of surgery or infection (particularly Chlamydia trachomatis), smoking and in vitro fertilization. This review appraises the data to date researching the aetiology of tubal ectopic pregnancy. METHODS Scientific literature was searched for studies investigating the underlying aetiology of tubal ectopic pregnancy. RESULTS Existing data addressing the underlying cause of tubal ectopic pregnancy are mostly descriptive. There are currently few good animal models of tubal ectopic pregnancy. There are limited data explaining the link between risk factors and tubal implantation. CONCLUSIONS Current evidence supports the hypothesis that tubal ectopic pregnancy is caused by a combination of retention of the embryo within the Fallopian tube due to impaired embryo-tubal transport and alterations in the tubal environment allowing early implantation to occur. Future studies are needed that address the functional consequences of infection and smoking on Fallopian tube physiology. A greater understanding of the aetiology of tubal ectopic pregnancy is critical for the development of improved preventative measures, the advancement of diagnostic screening methods and the development of novel treatments.