Objective: The associations between mental disorders and cancer remain unclear. It is also unknown whether any associations vary according to life stage or gender. This paper examines these research questions using data from the World Mental Health Survey Initiative. Methods: The World Health Organization Composite International Diagnostic Interview retrospectively assessed the lifetime prevalence of 16 DSM-IV mental disorders in face-to-face household population surveys in nineteen countries (n = 52,095). Cancer was indicated by self-report of diagnosis. Smoking was assessed in questions about current and past tobacco use. Survival analyses estimated associations between first onset of mental disorders and subsequently reported cancer. Results: After adjustment for comorbidity, panic disorder, specific phobia and alcohol abuse were associated with a subsequently self-reported diagnosis of cancer. There was an association between number of mental disorders and the likelihood of reporting a cancer diagnosis following the onset of the mental disorder. This suggests that the associations between mental disorders and cancer risk may be generalised, rather than specific to a particular disorder. Depression is more strongly associated with self-reported cancers diagnosed early in life and in women. PTSD is also associated with cancers diagnosed early in life. Conclusion: This study reports the magnitude of the associations between mental disorders and a self-reported diagnosis of cancer and provides information about the relevance of comorbidity, gender and the impact at different stages of life. The findings point to a link between the two conditions and lend support to arguments for early identification and treatment of mental disorders. (C) 2014 Elsevier Inc All rights reserved.