Chronic inflammation has been proposed as the possible causal mechanism that explains the observed association between certain risk factors, such as the use of talcum powder (talc) in the pelvic region and epithelial ovarian cancer. To address this issue we evaluated the potential role of chronic local ovarian inflammation in the development of the major subtypes of epithelial ovarian cancer. Factors potentially linked to ovarian inflammation were examined in an Australia-wide case–control study comprising 1,576 women with invasive and low malignant potential (LMP) ovarian tumours and 1,509 population-based controls. We confirmed a statistically significant increase in ovarian cancer risk associated with use of talc in the pelvic region (adjusted odds ratio 1.17, 95% CI: 1.01–1.36) that was strongest for the serous and endometrioid subtypes although the latter was not statistically significant (adjusted odds ratios 1.21, 95% CI 1.03–1.44 and 1.18, 95% CI 0.81–1.70, respectively). Other factors potentially associated with ovarian inflammation (pelvic inflammatory disease, human papilloma virus infection and mumps) were not associated with risk but, like others, we found an increased risk of endometrioid and clear cell ovarian cancer only among women with a history of endometriosis. Regular use of aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs was inversely associated with risk of LMP mucinous ovarian tumours only. We conclude that on balance chronic inflammation does not play a major role in the development of ovarian cancer. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.