With more than 160,000 deaths annually cancer is the second commonest cause of death in the UK. The little evidence available shows that black and minority ethnic people are experiencing an increase in cancer-related mortality. The Government's Health of the Nation report produced in 1993 by the Department of Health identifies key areas, including cancer, where improvements in mortality and morbidity could be achieved, and an essential element relates to the needs of black and minority ethnic people. It is, for example, now well recognised that in terms of screening, treatment and palliation, cancer services are not always accessible and sensitive to the needs of this section of the population. Beginning with a demographic backdrop this paper reviews the data on the occurrence of cancer and on access to services by this section of the population. Relevant initiatives funded by the Department of Health are highlighted and a summary of the information sources to enable health care purchasers and service providers to assess the needs of their local population has also been given.