To evaluate the possible association between pesticides and the risk of childhood cancers, epidemiologic studies published between 1970 and 1996 were critically reviewed. Thirty-one studies investigated whether occupational or residential exposure to pesticides by either parents or children was related to increased risk of childhood cancer. In general, the reported relative risk estimates were modest. Risk estimates appeared to be stronger when pesticide exposure was measured in more detail. Frequent occupational exposure to pesticides or home pesticide use was more strongly associated with both childhood leukemia and brain cancer than either professional exterminations or the use of garden pesticides. Occupational pesticide exposure was also associated with increased risk of Wilms' tumor, Ewing's sarcoma, and germ cell tumors. Residence on a farm, a proxy for pesticide exposure, was associated with increased risk of a number of childhood cancers. Although increased risk of some childhood cancers in association with pesticide exposure is suggested by multiple studies, methodological limitations common to many studies restrict conclusions; these include indirect exposure classification, small sample size, and potential biases in control selection. Opportunities for methodologic improvement in future studies of pesticides and childhood cancers are described.