Although smoking is widely recognized as a major cause of cancer, there is little information on how it contributes to the global and regional burden of cancers in combination with other risk factors that affect background cancer mortality patterns. We used data from the American Cancer Society's Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II) and the WHO and IARC cancer mortality databases to estimate deaths from 8 clusters of site-specific cancers caused by smoking, for 14 epidemiologic subregions of the world, by age and sex. We used lung cancer mortality as an indirect marker for accumulated smoking hazard. CPS-II hazards were adjusted for important covariates. In the year 2000, an estimated 1.42 (95% CI 1.27-1.57) million cancer deaths in the world, 21% of total global cancer deaths, were caused by smoking. Of these, 1.18 million deaths were among men and 0.24 million among women; 625,000 (95% CI 485,000-749,000) smoking-caused cancer deaths occurred in the developing world and 794,000 (95% CI 749,000-840,000) in industrialized regions. Lung cancer accounted for 60% of smoking-attributable cancer mortality, followed by cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract (20%). Based on available data, more than one in every 5 cancer deaths in the world in the year 2000 were caused by smoking, making it possibly the single largest preventable cause of cancer mortality. There was significant variability across regions in the role of smoking as a cause of the different site-specific cancers. This variability illustrates the importance of coupling research and surveillance of smoking with that for other risk factors for more effective cancer prevention.