We present a comprehensive overview of most recent European trends in population-based incidence of, mortality from and relative survival for patients with cancer since the mid 1990s. Data on incidence, mortality and 5-year relative survival from the mid 1990s to early 2000 for the cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, oesophagus, stomach, colorectum, pancreas, larynx, lung, skin melanoma, breast, cervix, corpus uteri, ovary, prostate, testis, kidney, bladder, and Hodgkin's disease were obtained from cancer registries from 21 European countries. Estimated annual percentages change in incidence and mortality were calculated. Survival trends were analyzed by calculating the relative difference in 5-year relative survival between 1990-1994 and 2000-2002 using data from EUROCARE-3 and -4. Trends in incidence were generally favorable in the more prosperous countries from Northern and Western Europe, except for obesity related cancers. Whereas incidence of and mortality from tobacco-related cancers decreased for males in Northern, Western and Southern Europe, they increased for both sexes in Central Europe and for females nearly everywhere in Europe. Survival rates generally improved, mostly due to better access to specialized diagnostics, staging and treatment. Marked effects of organised or opportunistic screening became visible for breast, prostate and melanoma in the wealthier countries. Mortality trends were generally favourable, except for smoking related cancers. Cancer prevention and management in Europe is moving in the right direction. Survival increased and mortality decreased through the combination of earlier detection, better access to care and improved treatment. Still, cancer prevention efforts have much to attain, especially in the domain of female smoking prevalence and the emerging obesity epidemic.