Worldwide an estimated 11 million cancer cases were diagnosed in 2002, one quarter being in Europe. We estimated the potential in avoidable numbers and proportions of 11 cancers amenable to prevention (cancers of the oral cavity, oesophagus, stomach, colorectal, pancreas, laryngeal, lung, female breast, endometrium, kidney and bladder) in 28 European countries. We assumed that the aggregated rate of 3 countries with lowest incidence to be attainable throughout Europe. The difference between the age- and gender-specific national cancer incidence rates and the lowest rate observed in 2002 was determined and defined as “avoidable.” Of the 1.4 million adult cases of selected cancers and countries within our study, 363,000 (59%) cancers in males and 326,000 (45%) cancers in females were hypothetically avoidable. Among men, the proportion was largest in Hungary (77%) and among women, in Belgium (54%). Assuming that differences in cancer incidence are not attributable to genetic susceptibility or diagnostic activity, about 50% of all cases of these 11 cancers could be potentially avoided, especially by decreased smoking among men. Interventions directed at reducing smoking, obesity and alcohol use as well as increasing physical activity and fruit and vegetable intake are necessary to attain lower incidence rates. It is important to recognize that the actual preventable cancer by eliminating currently known risk factors is somewhat less than we have estimated. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.