The diagnosis of cancer not only affects the lives of patients but also the lives of their relatives. The aim of this study was to investigate the prevalence of psychiatric disorders and quality of life (QoL) among wives of patients treated for head and neck cancer (HNC). We examined 31 wives of patients treated for HNC from January 1998 to December 2004 (meantime since diagnosis 3.7 years) by questionnaires with regard to quality of life (WHOQOL-BREF), quality of the relationship (Dyadic Adjustment Scale), and affective symptoms (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, HADS). Prevalence of psychiatric morbidity was measured by the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview (MINI). Results indicated that QoL and satisfaction with the relationship were comparable to the normal population. HADS mean scores showed no clinically relevant levels of depression and anxiety. A high prevalence of psychiatric disorders (38.7%, particularly agoraphobia) was found in the MINI. Wives diagnosed with an anxiety disorder reported significantly lower QoL compared to those without. The results of this study suggest that agoraphobia is a frequent psychiatric disorder seen in wives of HNC patients. Diagnosis of HNC can have a strong impact on the mental health of the spouse and should be taken in account in counselling of HNC patients. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.