Kernel smoothing is routinely used for the estimation of relative risk based on point locations of disease cases and sampled controls over a geographical region. Typically, fixed-bandwidth kernel estimation has been employed, despite the widely recognized problems experienced with this methodology when the underlying densities exhibit the type of spatial inhomogeneity frequently seen in geographical epidemiology. A more intuitive approach is to utilize a spatially adaptive, variable smoothing parameter. In this paper, we examine the properties of the adaptive kernel estimator by both asymptotic analysis and a simulation study, finding advantages over the fixed kernel approach in both the cases. We also look at practical issues with implementation of the adaptive relative risk estimator (including bandwidth choice and boundary correction), and develop a computationally inexpensive method for generating tolerance contours to highlight areas of significantly elevated risk.