Exposure to pesticides is recognized as an important environmental risk factor associated with development of cancer. Epidemiological studies, although sometimes contradictory, have linked phenoxy acid herbicides with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) and Soft Tissue Sarcoma (STS); organochlorine insecticides with STS, NHL, and leukemia; organophosphorous compounds with NHL and leukemia; and triazine herbicides with ovarian cancer. Exposure assessment is a crucial point in studying the association between cancer and pesticides. In order to investigate the association between hematolymphopoietic malignancies and occupational exposures, including pesticides, a population-based case-control study was carried out in Italy in 11 areas, 9 of which are agricultural or mixed areas. All newly diagnosed cases of hematolymphopoietic malignancies were collected in a 3-year period (1991-1993). The control group consisted of a random sample of the population residing in each area. The approach to infer exposures in agriculture was based on: the use of an agricultural questionnaire with 24 crop-specific questionnaires; expert agronomists who reviewed the collected information for each subject and translated it into pesticides histories. In total, 1925 cases and 1232 controls were interviewed in the nine agricultural areas. Increased risk was observed for some specific classes of pesticides. Furthermore, a nonstatistically significant increased risk of NHL was observed for subjects who were exposed to phenoxy herbicides not using protective equipment and a significant increased risk for exposure to 2, 4-dichlorophenoxy acetic acid (2,4-D).