Comparisons of cancer mortality in Catalonia and Spain have shown an intermediate position of these areas in relation to the rest of Europe. This study compares the overall cancer mortality in Catalonia and Spain in the periods 1975-77 and 1987-89 in relation to other European countries selected on the basis of geographical proximity and availability of information. Adjusted and truncated cancer mortality rates and relative changes in these rates have been assessed for both sexes. The mortality rate for males in Catalonia, Spain, Italy, Portugal and France has increased from 1975-77 to 1987-89 with relative increments of 13.5%, 13.7%, 10.1%, 9.6% and 4.3% respectively, whereas in Switzerland and England and Wales this rate has decreased. The mortality rate for females showed a slight drop between the two periods in all the studied countries except England and Wales and Portugal. By age groups, in males, the 0-44 year interval in Catalonia, Spain, France and Portugal, in descending order, showed the highest rates. The marked contrast of the evolution of the cancer mortality rate in Catalonia, Spain, Italy, France and Portugal, compared with Switzerland and England and Wales, and especially the considerable increase of the mortality in young people in Catalonia, indicates the extremely urgent need for all countries to adopt the measures to control cancer that have already shown themselves to be effective elsewhere.