Many patients express dissatisfaction with clinicians' information-giving. When the information is complex or potentially upsetting, clinicians may deliberately withhold information, especially if they lack the skills to handle patients' emotional reactions. Others underestimate the amount of information patients require. In this study, a heterogeneous sample of 101 patients participating in a trial assessing the benefits of receiving audio-taped recordings of their ‘bad news’ consultations, completed a questionnaire similar to Cassileth's Information Styles Questionnaire. This questionnaire assessed patients' preferences for both general and specific information about their disease and its treatment. Of the sample, 94% expressed a desire for as much information as possible from their oncologist, be it good or bad; 4% wished for information only if it was good news and 2% declined extra information, preferring to leave things up to the doctor. Patients wanting less specific or no extra information were older and had poorer prognoses than those wanting full disclosure. Although precise information needs varied between patients, this study showed that patients with cancer in general wish to be well-informed about diagnosis, prognosis, therapeutic options and side-effects.