OBJECTIVES: In this retrospective cohort study, the cancer incidence of commercial pilots was studied to determine whether exposure at work has any influence on the incidence of cancer. METHODS: The cohort was established from the files of the Civil Aviation Administration and included people who had valid licenses as commercial pilots between 1946 and 1994. Basic data about their flight careers were recorded, and exposure to cosmic radiation was estimated. The cohort was linked to the Cancer Register of Norway. The observed number of cases was compared with that expected based on national rates. RESULTS: A group of 3701 male pilots was followed over 70 560 person-years. There were 200 cases of cancer versus 188.8 expected, with a standardized incidence ratio (SIR) of 1.06 and a 95% confidence interval (95% CI) of 0.92-1.22. No significant decreased risk was found for any cancer site. Excess risks were found for malignant melanoma (22 cases SIR 1.8, 95% CI 1.1-2.7) and nonmelanoma skin cancer (14 cases, SIR 2.4, 95% CI 1.3-4.0). For malignant melanoma, there was a significant trend for the SIR by cumulative dose. CONCLUSIONS: For most cancer sites, the incidence among pilots did not deviate from that of the general population and could not be related to block hours of flight time or dose. It seems more likely that the excess risks of malignant melanoma and skin cancer are explained by factors related to life-style rather than by conditions at work.