This report presents worldwide estimates of annual mortality from all cancers and for 18 specific cancer sites around 1985. Crude and age-standardized mortality rates and numbers of deaths were computed for 24 geographical areas. Of the estimated 5 million deaths from cancer (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer), 56% occurred in developing countries. The most frequent neoplasm is lung cancer, accounting for 22% of cancer deaths in men. Among women breast cancer is the leading malignancy, accounting for 16% and 11% of all cancer deaths in developed and developing countries, respectively. In developing countries, cancer of the cervix uteri ranks first, breast cancer second. The second most frequent cause of death from cancer in both sexes is cancer of the stomach, followed by liver cancer in men and by colon/rectum cancer in women. Cancers of the colon/rectum and prostate maintain a high rank in men living in developed countries, while cancers of the lung, ovary and pancreas occupy similar ranks among women. In developing countries, cancers of the oesophagus and mouth/pharynx follow those previously mentioned in both sexes. If the estimated rates continue to prevail, increases in the numbers of deaths of 20.4% in developed and 18.1% in developing countries are expected by the year 2000, simply as a consequence of demographic trends towards ageing and population growth. Our results provide an indication of the potential impact of preventive practices. It is estimated that 20% of all cancer deaths (1 million) could be prevented by eliminating tobacco smoking. Mortality from cancers of the liver and uterine cervix, both major problems in developing countries, could be substantially reduced by immunization against hepatitis B virus infection and early detection through Pap smears, respectively.