Scanty information, limited to selected areas of the country, is available on cancer mortality in Brazil. Age-standardized (world population) mortality rates between 1980 and 2004, derived from the WHO database, were computed for all cancers and 24 major cancer sites in Brazil. Joinpoint regression analyses were used to identify the significant changes in trends and estimate annual percent change (APC) in rates. Total cancer mortality rates increased over the last decade in men (APC = 0.5) to reach 101.2/100 000, and in women (APC = 0.3) to reach 71.3/100 000. In men, upward trends were observed for cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx with a rate of 5.9/100 000 in 2000-2004, intestines (whose rate, however was low, i.e. 7.6), prostate (12.2), and leukemias (3.4). Male lung cancer increased until 1993 (APC = 1.39) and decreased thereafter (APC = -0.29), with a relatively low rate of 16.2/100 000 in 2000-2004. In women, there were steady upward trends for cancers of the lung (APC = 2.3), reaching 6.2/100 000 in 2000-2004, and leukemias (2.5). Breast cancer mortality leveled off at around 10/100 000 in the last decade, whereas declines were observed for cancers of the uterus, whose rate (8.3) however, remained comparatively high. Declines were observed for stomach cancer in both sexes, with rates of 11.1 in men and 4.6 in women. In conclusion, the key issues of cancer mortality in Brazil are the high rates of head and neck cancers in men and (cervix) uterine cancer in women, that is, in principle cancers that are largely avoidable through prevention, screening, and early diagnosis.