Deciphering the shared genetic basis of distinct cancers has the potential to elucidate carcinogenic mechanisms and inform broadly applicable risk assessment efforts. Here, we undertake genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and comprehensive evaluations of heritability and pleiotropy across 18 cancer types in two large, population-based cohorts: the UK Biobank (408,786 European ancestry individuals; 48,961 cancer cases) and the Kaiser Permanente Genetic Epidemiology Research on Adult Health and Aging cohorts (66,526 European ancestry individuals; 16,001 cancer cases). The GWAS detect 21 genome-wide significant associations independent of previously reported results. Investigations of pleiotropy identify 12 cancer pairs exhibiting either positive or negative genetic correlations; 25 pleiotropic loci; and 100 independent pleiotropic variants, many of which are regulatory elements and/or influence cross-tissue gene expression. Our findings demonstrate widespread pleiotropy and offer further insight into the complex genetic architecture of cross-cancer susceptibility.