Swiss national cancer mortality statistics from 1951 to 1984 and survival rates from the Vaud Cancer Registry datafile over the period 1974-1980 were considered in terms of sex ratios. Overall age-standardized cancer mortality for population aged 35-64 showed only a moderate decline in males (from 230 to 221/100,000), but a substantial one in females (from 191 to 152/100,000). Mortality from most cancer sites (except gallbladder and thyroid) was persistently higher in males, the male/female ratio ranging between 1.2 for intestines, skin, brain and lympho-reticular neoplasms to about 2 for stomach or pancreas, up to 7-10 for lung and cancers related to tobacco and alcohol (mouth or pharynx, oesophagus). The sex ratio for lung cancer increased between the early 1950's and the mid 1960's, but noticeably declined thereafter, probably reflecting trends in smoking prevalence among subsequent generations of Swiss males and females. Less obvious is the substantial increase in the sex ratio for liver cancer (from 1.6 to 5.7), which was evident in younger middle age, too. Population-based cancer survival statistics indicated that for most common sites rates were appreciably higher in females than in males. Thus, better survival explains part of the advantage in cancer mortality for women. This can be related to earlier diagnosis, better compliance or responsiveness to treatment, although there is no obvious single interpretation for this generalized more favourable pattern in females.