Recent studies have shown that cancer risk related to overweight and obesity is mediated by time and might be better approximated by using life years lived with excess weight. In this study we aimed to assess the impact of overweight duration and intensity in older adults on the risk of developing different forms of cancer. Study participants from seven European and one US cohort study with two or more weight assessments during follow-up were included (n = 329,576). Trajectories of body mass index (BMI) across ages were estimated using a quadratic growth model; overweight duration (BMI ≥ 25) and cumulative weighted overweight years were calculated. In multivariate Cox models and random effects analyses, a longer duration of overweight was significantly associated with the incidence of obesity-related cancer [overall hazard ratio (HR) per 10-year increment: 1.36; 95 % CI 1.12–1.60], but also increased the risk of postmenopausal breast and colorectal cancer. Additionally accounting for the degree of overweight further increased the risk of obesity-related cancer. Risks associated with a longer overweight duration were higher in men than in women and were attenuated by smoking. For postmenopausal breast cancer, increased risks were confined to women who never used hormone therapy. Overall, 8.4 % of all obesity-related cancers could be attributed to overweight at any age. These findings provide further insights into the role of overweight duration in the etiology of cancer and indicate that weight control is relevant at all ages. This knowledge is vital for the development of effective and targeted cancer prevention strategies.