Background Cancer patients increasingly are among older age groups, but to date little work has examined the trends in cancer among older people, particularly in relation to end of life care and death. This study describes the older population who die of cancer and the factors which may affect their place of death. Methods A Cross-sectional analysis of national data was performed. The study included all people aged 75 and over dying of cancer in England and Wales between 1995 and 1999. The population was divided into exclusive 5 year age cohorts, up to 100 years and over. Descriptive analysis explored demographic characteristics, cancer type and place of death. Results Between 1995 and 1999, 315,462 people aged 75 and over were registered as dying from cancer. The number who died increased each year slightly over the 5 year period (1.2%). In the 75–79 age group, 55 % were men, in those aged 100 and over this fell to 16%. On reaching their hundreds, the most common cause of death for men was malignancies of the genital organs; and for women it was breast cancer. The most frequent place of death for women in their hundreds was the care home; for men it was hospitals. Those dying from lymphatic and haematopoietic malignancies were most likely to die in hospitals, those with head and neck malignancies in hospices and breast cancer patients in a care home. Conclusion The finding of rising proportions of cancer deaths in institutions with increasing age suggests a need to ensure that appropriate high quality care is available to this growing section of the population.