Background The relationship of childhood socioeconomic position (SEP) to adult cancer has been inconsistent in the literature and there has been no review summarising the current evidence focused solely on cancer outcomes. Methods and results We performed a rapid review of the literature, which identified 22 publications from 13 studies, primarily in the UK and northern European countries that specifically analysed individual measures of SEP in childhood and cancer outcomes in adulthood. Most of these studies adjusted for adult SEP as a critical mediator of the relationship of interest. Conclusions Results confirm that childhood socioeconomic circumstances have a strong influence on stomach cancer and are likely to contribute, along with adult circumstances, to lung cancer through cumulative exposure to smoking. There was also some evidence of increased risk of colorectal, liver, cervical and pancreatic cancers with lower childhood SEP in large studies, but small numbers of cancer deaths made these estimates imprecise. Gaps in knowledge and potential policy implications are presented.