Mortality from all cancers combined and major cancers among men and women aged 20 years and over was compared by country of birth with that of the whole of England and Wales as the reference group. Population data from the 2001 Census and mortality data for 2001-2003 were used to estimate standardised mortality ratios. Data on approximately 399 000 cancer deaths were available, with at least 400 cancer deaths in each of the smaller populations. Statistically significant differences from the reference group included: higher mortality from all cancers combined, lung and colorectal cancer among people born in Scotland and Ireland, lower mortality for all cancers combined, lung, breast and prostate cancer among people born in Bangladesh (except for lung cancer in men), India, Pakistan or China/Hong Kong, lower lung cancer mortality among people born in West Africa or the West Indies, higher breast cancer mortality among women born in West Africa and higher prostate cancer mortality among men born in West Africa or the West Indies. These data may be relevant to causal hypotheses and in relation to health care and cancer prevention.