To understand patients' preferences regarding the disclosure of bad news is important in the clinical oncology setting. The aim of this study was to clarify descriptively the preferences of cancer patients. Five hundred and twenty-nine Japanese cancer outpatients were surveyed regarding their preferences regarding the disclosure of bad news, and several psychosocial and medical demographic variables were analyzed. In a descriptive analysis, more than 90% of the patients strongly preferred to discuss their current medical condition and treatment options with their physician and to have their physicians take the feelings of their family into consideration as well. While half of the patients preferred to receive information regarding their life expectancy, 30% preferred not to receive it. Multiple regression analyses indicated the preferences showing interindividual variations were associated with the level of education and the mental adjustment to cancer scores. A factor analysis revealed four preferences factors: method of disclosure of the bad news, provision of emotional support, provision of additional information, and setting. These four factors had good internal consistency reliability (Cronbach's alpha = 0.93−0.77). Providing emotional support, including the desire for the physician to show consideration for the patient's family, and understanding an individual's communication preferences may be useful for promoting patient–physician communication. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.