In order to determine which areas of cancer screening are currently receiving greatest emphasis in different parts of the world a Medline search of the literature for the period 2000-2002 was performed, concentrating attention on research into all aspects of efforts for early detection of tumours, with especial attention to methodology, motivation (including awareness of utility in the general populace and in minority groups), and intervention (professional training and general education). Focus on the skin, lung, cervix, breast, ovary + endometrium, oral cavity-oesophagus, gastric, colorectal, kidney + urinary tract and prostate, demonstrated large numbers of journals to be publishing papers in the field, with 10, 33, 130, 53, 24, 21, 6, 81, 12 and 58, respectively, in the period investigated, the grand total being 259. The average numbers of papers/journal ranged from 1.0-2.4 with only 15-35% appearing in journals with wide coverage. With the exception of oral, oesophageal and gastric cancer screening, an approximately 50% contribution in all areas was made by scientists in the US, followed by Europe (31% overall,) Asia (11%) then Australasia, Central and South America and Africa (3%, 2% and 1%, respectively). Clear differences were evident with the organ regarding specific topics receiving attention, most publications concerning the lung, ovary and urological tract dealing with detection methods. With the cervix and colorectum this topic accounted for half of the papers with especial attention to the relative advantages of the PAP smear, HPV testing and direct visual acetic acid (DVA) in the one, and FOBT and endoscopy in the other. Another major focus was found to be minority attitudes to breast, prostate and cervical screening in the US, whereas only few papers were found dealing with practical intervention, targeting professionals or screenees to increase participation in screening programs. The present approach suggested a number of areas requiring more attention, not least being the need for more comprehensive reviews across organs to allow the general reader a better undertanding of the overall picture, and which avenues might best reward exploration in the future.