Both hysterectomy and tubal sterilisation offer significant protection from ovarian cancer, and the risk of cardiovascular disease in women is lowered after hysterectomy. Since little is known about the accuracy of women's self-reports of these procedures, we assessed their reliability and validity using data obtained in a case-control study of ovarian cancer. There was 100 per cent repeatability for both positive and negative histories of hysterectomy and tubal sterilisation among a small sample of women on reinterview. Verification of surgery was sought against surgeons' or medical records, or if these were unavailable, from randomly selected current general practitioners for 51 cases and 155 controls reporting a hysterectomy and 73 cases and 137 controls reporting a tubal sterilisation. Validation rate for self-reported hysterectomy against medical reports (32 cases, 96 controls) was 96 per cent (95 per cent confidence interval (CI) 91 to 99) and for tubal sterilisation (32 cases, 77 controls) it was 88 per cent (CI 81 to 93), which is likely to be an underestimate. Although findings are based on small numbers of women for whom medical reports could be ascertained, they are consistent with other findings that suggest women have good recall of past histories of hysterectomy and tubal sterilisation; this allows long-term effects of these procedures to be studied with reasonable accuracy from self-reports.