Little information is available on the health effects of exposures to fallout from Soviet nuclear weapons testing and on the combined external and internal environmental exposures that have resulted from these tests. This paper reports the first analysis of the Semipalatinsk historical cohort exposed in the vicinity of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, Kazakhstan. The cohort study, which includes 19,545 inhabitants of exposed and comparison villages of the Semipalatinsk region, was set up in the 1960s and comprises 582,750 person-years of follow-up between 1960 and 1999. Cumulative effective radiation dose estimates in this cohort range from 20 mSv to approximately 4 Sv. Rates of mortality and cancer mortality in the exposed group substantially exceeded those of the comparison group. Dose-response analyses within the exposed group confirmed a significant trend with dose for all solid cancers (P < 0.0001) and for digestive and respiratory cancers (P = 0.0255 and P < 0.0001), whereas no consistent dose-response trend was found for all causes of death (P = 0.4296). Regarding specific cancer sites, a significant trend with dose was observed for lung cancer (P = 0.0001), stomach cancer (P = 0.0050), and female breast cancer (P = 0.0040) as well as for esophagus cancer in women (P = 0.0030). The excess relative risk per sievert for all solid cancers combined was 1.77 (1.35; 2.27) based on the total cohort data, yet a selection bias regarding the comparison group could not be entirely ruled out. The excess relative risk per sievert based on the cohort's exposed group was 0.81 (0.46; 1.33) for all solid cancers combined and thus still exceeds current risk estimates from the Life Span Study. Future epidemiological assessments based on this cohort will benefit from extension of follow-up and ongoing validation of dosimetric data.