Data on 35,291 individuals with cancer, aged 13-24 years, in England from 1979 to 2001 were analysed by region and socio-economic deprivation of census ward of residence, as measured by the Townsend deprivation index. The incidence of leukaemia, lymphoma, central nervous system tumours, soft tissue sarcomas, gonadal germ cell tumours, melanoma and carcinomas varied by region (P<0.01, all groups) but bone tumour incidence did not. Lymphomas, central nervous system tumours and gonadal germ cell tumours all had higher incidence in less deprived census wards (P<0.01), while chronic myeloid leukaemia and carcinoma of the cervix had higher incidence in more deprived wards (P<0.01). In the least deprived wards, melanoma incidence was nearly twice that in the most deprived, but this trend varied between regions (P<0.001). These cancer incidence patterns differ from those seen in both children and older adults and have implications for aetiology and prevention.