The Arab world, stretching from Lebanon and Syria in the north, through to Morocco in the west, Yemen in the south and Iraq in the east, is the home of more than 300 million people. Cancer is already a major problem and the lifestyle changes underlying the markedly increasing rates for diabetes suggest that the burden of neoplasia will only become heavier over time, especially with increasing obesity and aging of what are now still youthful populations. The age-distributions of the affected patients in fact might also indicate cohort effects in many cases. There are a number of active registries in the region and population-based data are now available for a considerable number of countries. A body of Arab scientists are also contributing to epidemiological research into the causes of cancer and how to develop effective control programs. The present review covers the relevant PubMed literature and cancer incidence data from various sources, highlighting similarities and variation in the different cancer types, with attempts to explain disparities with reference to possible environmental factors. In males, the predominant cancers vary, with lung, urinary bladder or liver in first place, while for females throughout the region breast cancer is the greatest problem. In both sexes, non-Hodgkins lymphomas and leukemias are relatively frequent, along with thyroid cancer in certain female populations. Adenocarcinomas of the breast, prostate and colorectum appear to be increasing. Coordination of activities within the Arab world could bring major benefits to cancer control in the eastern Mediterranean region.