N-nitroso compounds and their precursors, nitrites and nitrates, have been hypothesized as risk factors, and vitamins C and E, which inhibit N-nitroso formation, as protective factors for brain tumors. A case-control study of maternal diet during pregnancy and risk of astrocytoma, the most common childhood brain tumor, was conducted by the Childrens Cancer Group. The study included 155 cases under age six at diagnosis and the same number of matched controls selected by random-digit dialing. A trend was observed for consumption of cured meats, which contain preformed nitrosamines (a class of N-nitroso compounds) and their precursors (adjusted odds ratio [OR] for highest quartile of intake relative to lowest = 1.7, P trend = 0.10). However, no strong trends were observed for nitrosamine (OR = 0.8, P = 0.60); nitrite (OR = 1.3, P = 0.54); nitrate (OR = 0.7, P = 0.43); vitamin C (OR = 0.7, P = 0.37); or vitamin E (OR = 0.7, P = 0.48). Iron supplements were associated with a significant decrease in risk (OR = 0.5, 95 percent confidence interval = 0.3-0.8). The effect of several dietary factors differed by income level, making interpretation of the results difficult. Future research should investigate the effect of dietary components not assessed in this study, as these may explain the disparate effects by income level. The results of this study provide limited support for the nitrosamine hypothesis.