To examine cancer mortality by occupation among New Zealand women, 1988-1997. Proportional mortality ratios (PMRs) were calculated for the six most common general occupations among women: clerical workers, health professionals, teachers, farmers, cleaners and textile workers. Age groups examined were those aged 20-59 and those > or =20 years. Data on occupation was obtained from death certificates. From 1988-1997, annually 12-54% of women had a codeable occupation on their death certificate, leaving 3079 deaths among women 20-59 years, and 7236 in those > or =20 years for analysis. Leukaemia was significantly increased in health professionals aged > or =20 years (PMR=1.52; 95% CI: 1.08-2.09, n=38). In nurses alone, the PMR for leukaemia was 1.42; 95% CI: 0.96-2.01, n=31). This study represents the first systematic examination of cancer mortality by occupation among women in New Zealand. These data should be examined routinely as part of regular surveillance of occupational cancer among women. Avenues for further research identified particularly include an analytical study of leukaemia and other cancers among female health professionals.