We have examined the effect of tubal sterilisation and hysterectomy on risk of ovarian cancer in a large case-control study in eastern Australia involving 824 women aged 18-79 years, diagnosed with epithelial ovarian cancer between 1990 and 1993, and 855 controls randomly selected from the electoral roll. Relative risks for ovarian cancer were estimated using multiple categorical regression to adjust for age, parity, oral contraceptive use and other risk factors. Tubal sterilisation was associated with a 39% reduction in risk of ovarian cancer (RR 0.61, 95% CI 0.46-0.85) and hysterectomy with a 36% reduction (RR 0.64, 95% CI 0.48-0.85). Risk remained low 25 years after surgery and was reduced irrespective of sterilisation technique, and estimates were similar among various types of epithelial ovarian cancer. The greatest reduction (74%) was observed among women with primary peritoneal tumours. Pelvic infection and use of vaginal sprays or contraceptive foams were not related to ovarian cancer, while use of talc in the perineal region slightly but significantly increased risk among women with patent fallopian tubes. Reportedly heavy or painful menses, perhaps associated with retrograde flow, were associated with ovarian cancer, and reduction in risk of disease after hysterectomy was greatest among women who had heavy periods. Our findings support the theory that contaminants from the vagina, such as talc, and from the uterus, such as endometrium, gain access to the peritoneal cavity through patent fallopian tubes and may enhance the malignant transformation of ovarian surface epithelium. Surgical tubal occlusion may reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by preventing the access of such agents.