BACKGROUND: Dairy foods and their constituents (lactose and calcium) have been hypothesized to promote ovarian carcinogenesis. Although case-control studies have reported conflicting results for dairy foods and lactose, several cohort studies have shown positive associations between skim milk, lactose, and ovarian cancer. METHODS: A pooled analysis of the primary data from 12 prospective cohort studies was conducted. The study population consisted of 553,217 women among whom 2,132 epithelial ovarian cases were identified. Study-specific relative risks and 95% confidence intervals were calculated by Cox proportional hazards models and then pooled by a random-effects model. RESULTS: No statistically significant associations were observed between intakes of milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and dietary and total calcium intake and risk of ovarian cancer. Higher lactose intakes comparing > or = 30 versus <10 g/d were associated with a statistically significant higher risk of ovarian cancer, although the trend was not statistically significant (pooled multivariate relative risk, 1.19; 95% confidence interval, 1.01-1.40; P(trend) = 0.19). Associations for endometrioid, mucinous, and serous ovarian cancer were similar to the overall findings. DISCUSSION: Overall, no associations were observed for intakes of specific dairy foods or calcium and ovarian cancer risk. A modest elevation in the risk of ovarian cancer was seen for lactose intake at the level that was equivalent to three or more servings of milk per day. Because a new dietary guideline recommends two to three servings of dairy products per day, the relation between dairy product consumption and ovarian cancer risk at these consumption levels deserves further examination.