Published studies relating to the usefulness of diagnostic and operative laparoscopy in women with chronic pelvic pain (CPP) were reviewed. This revealed that approximately 40 per cent of all laparoscopies were done for CPP. However, the definition of CPP was found to be nebulous and inconsistent, and that muddled definitive conclusions about patient diagnoses and treatments. The following definition of CPP was proposed: nonmenstrual pain of 3 or more months duration that localizes to the anatomic pelvis and is severe enough to cause functional disability and require medical or surgical treatment. A survey of published reports showed laparoscopically diagnosable abnormalities in 61 per cent of patients, compared with abnormalities in 28 per cent of women without CPP. Studies in adolescents were also reviewed and showed that adolescents with CPP also had significant laparoscopically diagnosed abnormalities, with 78 per cent showing some pathology, especially endometriosis (40 per cent). Endometriosis, pelvic adhesions, chronic pelvic inflammatory disease, and ovarian cysts were the diagnoses most commonly made via laparoscopy in CPP patients. The potential roles of each of these abnormalities in CPP were discussed, as well as the results of laparoscopic treatment of each disease. Laparoscopy was also found to have a limited role in women with CPP after hysterectomy or bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, with usefulness in diagnosing and treating adhesions and residual ovary syndrome, although its role in ovarian remnant syndrome was uncertain. Overall, the data showed that less than 50 per cent of women with CPP were helped by diagnostic and operative laparoscopy, stressing the need for both physicians and patients to recognize that laparoscopy is neither the ultimate evaluation nor the panacea for CPP.