We examined cancer mortality at ages 13-29 years in England and Wales between 1981 and 2005, a total of 20 026 deaths over approximately 303 million person-years (mpy) at risk by sex, age group and time period. Overall, the mortality rate was 65.6 per mpy. Malignant neoplasms of the central nervous system showed the highest rate (8.5), followed by myeloid and monocytic leukaemia (6.6), lymphoid leukaemia (6.4), malignant bone tumours (5.4) and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (5.2). These groups together accounted for almost 50% of all cancer deaths. The mortality rate for males (72.4) was 23% higher than for females (58.6) (P-value <0.0001). Males showed significantly higher mortality rates than females in almost all diagnostic groups, in general, mortality increasing with age (P-value <0.0001). There were significant decreases in mortality over time, the annual percentage change between 1981 and 2005 being minus 1.86 (95% confidence interval -2.09 to -1.62). Cancer groups with the highest mortality differed from those with the highest incidence.