The establishment of effective population-based cancer registries (PBCRs) in low-resource countries is challenging. There is a lack of knowledge among cancer patients who do not go to treatment centres, there is an absence of mortality information, frequently employed as a complementary back-up in cancer registries and a lack of efficient and accurate population census. Hospital-based cancer registries (HBCRs) have a different, although complementary role: they focus more on clinical information about patients and are sources of cancer information about cancer diagnosis, treatment and survival in African countries. Establishing and sustaining an HBCR in a cancer centre or cancer treatment unit can provide data about the mode of diagnosis, the clinical features of the tumour, treatment and follow-up details. In addition, the HBCR can be a sustainable source to help sustain local cancer-control programmes. The HBCR can also be a source of information for PBCRs.