Transatlantic cancer survival comparisons are scarce and involve mostly aggregate European data from the late 1980s. We compare the levels of cancer patient survival achieved in Germany and the United States (US) by the beginning of the 21st century, using data from the Cancer Registry of Saarland/Germany and the SEER Program of the US. Age-adjusted 5- and 10-year relative survival for 23 common forms of cancer derived by period analysis for the 2000–2002 period were calculated, with additional detailed age- and stage-specific analyses for cancers with the highest incidence. Among the 23 cancer sites, 5 (10) year relative survival was significantly higher for 1 (2) and 8 (5) cancers in Germany and the US, respectively. In Germany, survival was significantly higher for patients with stomach cancer, whereas survival was higher in the US for patients with breast, cervical, prostate, colorectal and oral cavity cancer. Among the most common cancers, age-specific survival differences were particularly pronounced for older patients with breast, colorectal and prostate cancer. Survival advantages of breast cancer patients in the US were mainly due to more favorable stage distributions. This comprehensive survival comparison between Germany and the US suggests that although survival was similar for the majority of the compared cancer sites, long-term prognosis of patients continues to be better in the US for many of the most common forms of cancer. Among these, differences between patients with breast and prostate cancer are probably due to more intensive screening activities. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.