The objective of the study was to analyse the relationship between occupational exposures and risk of pancreatic cancer. Incident cases of pancreatic cancer and hospital controls were prospectively identified and interviewed during the hospital stay. Occupational history was obtained by direct interview with the patient, and was available for 164 (89%) of 185 pancreatic cancer cases, and 238 (90%) of 264 controls. Two industrial hygienists evaluated exposures to 22 suspected carcinogens previously associated with pancreatic cancer. Occupational exposures were also assessed using the Finnish job-exposure matrix (FINJEM). For each type of pesticide group, moderately increased odds ratios (OR) were apparent in the high- intensity category, highest for arsenical pesticides (OR = 3.4; 95% CI 0.9- 12.0), and 'other pesticides' (OR = 3.17; 95% CI 1.1-9.2). ORs for aniline derivatives, and dyes and organic pigments, were also higher for high- intensity exposure, and increased when lagged and restricted to long duration of exposure. ORs above 3 were observed for the following agents evaluated by FINJEM: pesticides, benzo[a]pyrene, lead, volatile sulphur compounds, and sedentary work. Whilst generally negative, results lend moderate support to the hypothesis of an association between exposure to some pesticides and pancreatic cancer. Larger studies could address the potential for these compounds to modify the carcinogenic risk of other environmental exposures. Suggestive increases in risk from aniline derivatives, dyes and organic pigments, and benzo[a]pyrene may also deserve further attention. (C) 2000 British Occupational Hygiene Society.