Socio-economic status (SES) has often been associated with health disparities and mortality in cancer patients, yet systematic research into the role of SES in the course of the disease is lacking. This prospective study intends to examine the role of SES (i.e. educational level in this study) in psychological and physical adaptation to cancer. Ninety-nine cancer patients were followed from a community-based survey. Pre- and post-morbid data on patients' quality of life (QoL) were available. Adaptation was defined by looking at the level and pattern of scores on QoL scales from pre- to post-disease assessments. Results show some non-significant trends that more high-educated patients managed to adapt completely to cancer in relation to role and physical functioning when compared with low-educated participants. Furthermore, the greater part of high-educated patients who completely adapted in physical functioning achieved this result more rapidly without an initial deterioration. Unexpectedly, these differences were not significant when tested in a regression model. Hence, although there are some indications for differences in adaptation to role and physical functioning between educational groups, we did not find any evidence that proved such a relation. For the group as a whole, it is very interesting to see that based on our operationalization of adaptation, only a small percentage of patients deteriorated from pre- to post-disease assessments. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.