OBJECTIVE--To study the effect on the incidence of cancer of exposure to chemicals handled in the leather tanning industry. MATERIALS AND METHODS--A case-control study was performed within a cohort of 2487 workers employed for at least six months during the period 1900-89 in three Swedish leather tanneries. 68 cancer cases (lung, stomach, bladder, kidney, nasal, and pancreatic cancers and soft tissue sarcomas) and 178 matched controls were studied. Effects of chemical exposures on cancer incidence, adjusted for age at risk, sex, and plant were estimated with a conditional logistic regression model. RESULTS--A significant association was found between exposure to leather dust and pancreatic cancer (odds ratio (OR) 7.19, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.44 to 35-89). An association was indicated between leather dust from vegetable tanning and lung cancer. After adjustment for smoking habits a tentative association between organic solvents and lung cancer lost its significance. No association was found between exposure to chlorophenols and soft tissue sarcomas. CONCLUSIONS--The significant association between leather tanning and soft tissue sarcomas that was found in our previous cohort analysis could not be explained by exposure to chlorophenols. On the other hand a significant association was found between exposure to leather dust and pancreatic cancer, and exposure to leather dust from vegetable tanning was often present in cases with lung cancer. Due to the small numbers of cases, the results can, however, only lead to tentative conclusions.