Excess weight has been associated with increased risk of cancer. The effect of body mass index (BMI, kg/m2) on overall cancer risk and on risk of developing several common cancer types was examined in a population-based cohort study. Height and weight measurements were available for 35,362 women and 33,424 men recruited in the Northern Sweden Health and Disease Cohort between 1985 and 2003. Among cohort members, 2,691 incident cancer cases were identified. The association of BMI with cancer risk was examined using Poisson regression. Women with BMI > 27.1 (top quartile) had a 29% higher risk of developing any malignancy compared to women with BMI of 18.5–22.2 (lowest quartile), which increased to 47% in analysis limited to nonsmokers. Analyses according to WHO cut-off points showed that obese women (BMI ≥ 30) had a 36% higher risk of cancer than women with BMI in the normal range (18.5–25). Individual cancer sites most strongly related to obesity were endometrium (risk for top quartile = 3.53, 95% confidence interval 1.86–7.43), ovary (2.09, 1.13–4.13) and colon (2.05, 1.04–4.41). BMI was inversely related to breast cancer occurring before age 49 (0.58, 0.29–1.11, ptrend < 0.04). In men, there was no association of BMI with overall cancer risk. Obese men (BMI ≥ 30), however, were at increased risk of developing kidney cancer (3.63, 1.23–10.7) and, after exclusion of cases diagnosed within 1 year of recruitment, colon cancer (1.77, 1.04–2.95). Our study provides further evidence that BMI is positively associated with cancer risk. In women from northern Sweden, up to 7% of all cancers were attributable to overweight and obesity and could be avoided by keeping BMI within the recommended range. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.