In the prospect of a political and economic 'harmonization' of the European Economic Community (EEC) and, possibly, all Europe, the identification of differences in cancer frequencies and trends in major European areas (ie EEC, non-EEC western countries, and eastern European countries) can help to set health priorities. From 1960-64 to 1985-89 all-age mortality rates of some common cancers (mouth or pharynx, pancreas, lung, kidney, prostate and skin) increased substantially especially in East Europe. Conversely, mortality rates from cancer of the stomach, uterus, testis and from Hodgkin's disease declined, but, again, trends in East Europe were less favourable. Some elevations in rare malignancies (non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, multiple myeloma and connective and soft-tissue sarcomas) emerged rather uniformly in Europe, especially in elderly people. Most favourable trends in total cancer mortality were apparent among females in the EEC (minus 7%) and non-EEC western countries (minus 14%). The picture becomes gradually less favourable with respect to non-EEC western European males and eastern European females (virtually no change) and EEC males (plus 13%). With a 25% increase in total cancer mortality rates in the past 30 years, males in East Europe emerge as the 'problem' group. The even wider gap between West and East Europe in cancer rates in young males leaves no hope for future improvements in the absence of effective interventions. Raising public awareness (especially with respect to smoking and alcohol consumption), and increasing motivation and quality controls among health professionals are badly needed in disadvantaged European areas.