Incidence data from the Shanghai (People's Republic of China) Cancer Registry were used to assess the temporal trends of three major female cancers during 1972-89. Rates for cancers of the breast, corpus uteri and, to a lesser extent, ovary rose over the study period. The increases in breast and ovarian cancer were most pronounced among women under age 50, whereas those for corpus uteri cancer were restricted generally to those aged 55 to 69 years. When considered by cohort year of birth, risk of breast and ovarian cancers rose among women born since 1925 and 1935, respectively, but little evidence of cohort effect was apparent for corpus uteri cancer. Potential explanations for these patterns are explored.