OBJECTIVE: Cancer is a major public health concern in American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities. However, information on the incidence of cancer is lacking for this group. The purpose of this study is to report cancer incidence patterns for the U.S. AI/AN population. METHODS: Age-adjusted annual cancer incidence rates for 1992 through 1999 were calculated for 12 Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) areas, representing a sample (42%) of the U.S. AI/AN population. Trends in cancer incidence rates for the AI/AN sample were determined using standard linear regression of log-transformed rates and were compared to those of the U.S. white population. RESULTS: The top five incident cancers (from highest to lowest) among AI/AN males were prostate, lung and bronchus, colon and rectum, kidney and renal pelvis, and stomach cancers. Among AI/AN women, cancers of the breast, colon and rectum, lung and bronchus, endometrium, and ovary ranked highest. Four sites where cancer incidence rates are greater for AI/ANs than for whites include gallbladder (the AI/AN rate was 4.1 times the rate for white males and 2.6 times the rate for white females), liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancers (1.3 times for males and 2.3 times for females), stomach (1.2 times for males and 1.5 times for females), and kidney and renal pelvis (1.03 times for males and 1.07 times for females). The data show increasing trends for AI/AN males and females and declining trends for white males and females for colorectal, stomach, and pancreatic cancers and leukemia. Similar differences between AI/AN rates and white rates were found for urinary bladder cancers in males and gallbladder cancer in females. CONCLUSIONS: Analysis of SEER data allowed for the determination of disparities in cancer incidence between a sample of the U.S. AI/AN population and the white population. The findings of this study provide baseline information necessary for developing cancer prevention and intervention strategies specific to the AI/AN population to address these cancer disparities.