This article discusses historical and social reasons for the emergence of women's occupational cancer as a current area of research interest. It develops background information on relationships between social and occupational factors that must be considered if research on women, work, and cancer is to be well designed. These factors include specific occupational titles and tasks and the socioeconomic status and roles of women being studied. In addition, detailed demographic data on the industrial and occupational distribution of female workers are provided as one basis for setting priorities for women's occupational cancer studies. These demographic data are supplemented by analysis of specific potential exposures to carcinogens and other hazardous substances. By comparing lists of known and suspected carcinogens published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer to the industries and uses listed by the Hazardous Substances Data Base of the National Library of Medicine, a new target list of industries of significance to female workers was derived. Its implications are discussed herein.