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The very rapid worldwide increase in mobile phone use in the last decade has generated considerable interest in the possible health effects of exposure to radio frequency (RF) fields. A multinational case–control study, INTERPHONE, was set-up to investigate whether mobile phone use increases the risk of cancer and, more specifically, whether the RF fields emitted by mobile phones are carcinogenic. The study focused on tumours arising in the tissues most exposed to RF fields from mobile phones: glioma, meningioma, acoustic neurinoma and parotid gland tumours. In addition to a detailed history of mobile phone use, information was collected on a number of known and potential risk factors for these tumours. The study was conducted in 13 countries. Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the UK using a common core protocol. This paper describes the study design and methods and the main characteristics of the study population. INTERPHONE is the largest case–control study to date investigating risks related to mobile phone use and to other potential risk factors for the tumours of interest and includes 2,765 glioma, 2,425 meningioma, 1,121 acoustic neurinoma, 109 malignant parotid gland tumour cases and 7,658 controls. Particular attention was paid to estimating the amount and direction of potential recall and participation biases and their impact on the study results.